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Israel’s “Less Lethal” Weapons Take Children’s Eyes and Lives

Eight children have been shot in the head or neck, despite instructions not to fire rubber-coated bullets above the torso.

Israel’s military regulations supposedly instruct soldiers not to fire rubber-coated metal bullets at women or children or above the torso.

But since October 2015, eight children have been shot in the head or neck during protests.

Two of these teenagers have lost their eyesight.

Ahmad Sharaka, a 14-year-old resident of Jalazone refugee camp, lost his life after a rubber-coated steel bullet hit him behind his left ear causing a massive brain hemorrhage that killed him within an hour of his injury.

Rubber-coated bullets are just one kind of supposedly “less lethal” weapon Israeli occupation forces and police are using with increasing frequency against Palestinian protesters and bystanders.

Foam-tipped bullets or sponge bullets, which are composed of an aluminum base and a dense foam nose, have caused one death and dozens of injuries of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and present-day Israel since 2014.

These so-called crowd control weapons were introduced to Israel’s police force after rubber-coated steel bullets were banned from use inside Israel following the Or Commission’s recommendation.

Now their use is on the rise.

The Or Commission was an Israeli government-appointed body convened to review the use of force against demonstrators after 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel were shot to death during protests in October 2000.

The resulting report released in 2003 found no justification for the police to fire live or rubber-coated bullets at the protesters.

But no Israeli officers or officials were ever brought to justice for the killings.

Meanwhile, rubber-coated bullets continue to be freely used against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

According to statistics obtained by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel through a freedom of information request, Israeli police have fired a total of 57,000 foam-tipped bullets in the last two years alone: 22,000 in 2015 and 35,000 in 2014.

These rates mark a staggering intensification from previous years and have predictably caused a sharp rise in injuries, as documented by ACRI.

Furthermore, in 2014, black foam-tipped bullets replaced the reputedly softer blue variety after police complained that the latter were not “effective” enough.

Lawmaker Haneen Zoabi was hit with weapons that later turned out to be the blue foam-tipped bullets during a 27 October 2010 protest in present-day Israel, when their use was still relatively new.

They caused an intense burning sensation and welts on her body that lasted for days.

The newer black sponge-tipped bullets cause even more severe injuries, and even death, according to ACRI.

In August 2014, police fired a black foam-tipped bullet at 15-year-old Muhammed Sinokrot’s head and he died from his injuries a few days later.

Muhammad was hit while he was walking to the market to buy bread for his family.

Since then, ACRI has documented 30 people who have sustained significant injuries from the black foam-tipped bullets.

They include 5-year-old Abdul Rahman Abu Ghali, from Issawiya, in occupied East Jerusalem, who was struck in the groin, 6- and 10-year-olds Muhammad Obeid and Yahiyah al-Amudi, who each lost an eye.

ACRI has documented a total of 15 people who have lost an eye from these “less lethal” bullets, six of whom were minors.

In January 2016, Ahmad Abu Hummus, 12, also from Issawiya, suffered severe brain damage after a foam-tipped bullet struck his head.

After remaining unresponsive for days Ahmad is now speaking, his father told the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, but he is still not walking well.

“The improper use of crowd control weapons against children must end immediately,” Ayed Abu Eqtaish, the accountability program director at Defense for Children International — Palestine, said in a recent press release.

“Israeli soldiers who aim crowd control weapons at children’s heads and upper bodies at close range must be held accountable for their actions,” Abu Eqtaish added.

Anne Suciu, an attorney with ACRI, told +972 Magazine that these bullets are not supposed to be crowd control weapons.

“But we see again and again that they are fired indiscriminately towards crowds, and that is how they keep hitting people that have nothing to do with the demonstrations,” Suciu said.

Worldwide Growth

The rise of “crowd control weapons” in Israel is paralleled around the world, as a surge of popular protests confront militarized police forces.

And yet there is a conspicuous gap between the prevalence of such weapons and international conventions and regulations regarding their use.

This month, the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a publication called “Lethal in Disguise,” documenting the history, dangers and prevalence of various so-called “less lethal weapons” that are used primarily to disperse demonstrations.

“As [crowd control weapons] are becoming increasingly affordable, law enforcement units and governments are demanding more munitions, further expanding the market,” the report states.

While manufacturers of these weapons used to be confined to United States, Israel, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, today more than 50 countries produce their own variations of the weapons. This proliferation has made them more affordable.

ACRI’s Suciu said that the weapons used in Israel are tested only by the private companies that manufacture them. When ACRI requested the regulations for the black sponge-tipped bullets, the police sent back almost completely redacted documents.

“They say it might cause the manufacturer commercial damage, which is incomprehensible,” she told +972 Magazine.

Israel features prominently in the “Lethal in Disguise” report, as its military and police use several kinds of crowd control weapons, including chemical irritants (tear gas), “kinetic impact projectiles” (foam-tipped or rubber-coated bullets), water cannon and “disorientation devices” such as stun grenades and acoustic weapons.

Rubber-coated bullets are the most common form of kinetic impact projectiles.

Such weapons were first developed by British colonial authorities against their subjugated populations in Asia, first in Singapore and later in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Later, the British would use wood and rubber bullets against people in Northern Ireland, paving the way for the United States to use them against Vietnam War protesters, causing the death of one person.

According to the report’s analysis of medical literature, 70 percent of the documented injuries from kinetic impact projectiles are severe and 15 percent result in permanent disabilities.

According to the report, the first water cannons used for crowd control were developed by Germany in the 1930s.

During the 1980s, Israel exported water cannons to South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Today, Israel is one of the weapon’s most innovative users. Israel invented the “skunk,” which sprays putrid water at protesters with a strong jet, leaving everything it touches reeking for days.

Israel also indiscriminately sprays skunk into Palestinian homes.

Israel is now trying to market skunk around the world, including to US police forces, touting the fact that it is “field tested.”

“Israel is a very extreme example of the use of crowd control weapons,” ACRI’s Suciu explained. “Not just because of the amount of weapons that are used, when they are used, and that they cause death again and again, but also the fact that there is no right to protest in the West Bank.”

No Accountability

The United Nations has documented that at least 2,177 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have sustained injuries between October 2015 and January 2016 from Israel’s use of live ammunition or crowd control weapons.

By the beginning of this month, more than 40 children had been killed since October, four of whom were shot dead during protests.

According to Haaretz, Israel’s justice ministry has opened 15 complaints into injuries but no indictments have been made.

No decision has been made in the death of Muhammad Sinokrot or the serious injury of Ahmad Abu Hummus.

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