Firecrackers: The Newest Popular Weapon, and the Newest Threat, in Jerusalem

Call it the Firecracker Intifada: The police suspect that Israelis are improperly selling them to Palestinians, who are using them as weapons in the riots.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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A Palestinian protestor directs fireworks toward Israeli police in Shuafat, East Jerusalem, on July 2, 2014.Credit: AFP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The recent wave of violence in Jerusalem has been given several names: the Urban Intifada, the Children’s Intifada and the Silent Intifada.

Now add another: the Firecracker Intifada, so called because the Palestinian men involved in the riots have begun using firecrackers as weapons. And the Israel Police and the government are taking action to combat the effort.

Firecrackers have become extremely popular in recent months, second only to stones in popularity. The firecrackers are aimed directly, and fired all at once, from containers with 20 to 25 compartments.

Observers estimate that thousands of firecrackers have been fired at police officers in Jerusalem since July. Several police officers have been wounded: A number suffered burns and three officers appear to have lost hearing in one ear.

What's perhaps unusual is that these firecrackers are not smuggled in through tunnels or thrown over the border fence. They are brought into Israel completely legally, through Ashdod Port. And police officials say that the firecrackers that the Palestinian rioters use were sold to them by Israelis.

Officials of the Israel Police and the Economy Ministry divide the firecrackers into four grades.

Firecrackers of the smallest grade are sparklers, used at birthday parties and on cakes in cafes, and they pose no danger. The two highest grades — up to 300 millimeters (11.8 inches) and larger than 300 millimeters — are used in professional fireworks displays and are under tight import and marketing restrictions.

The second grade, which ranges from 20 millimeters to 40 millimeters (0.8 inch to 1.6 inch), is the most problematic, the one that the Palestinians use. By law, a special permit is required to use them.

Fewer than 10 importers of fireworks are active in Israel. Also active in the country are roughly 600 licensed fireworks operators — who can put on fireworks displays — and, observers estimate, at least twice that number of unlicensed operators.

Operators can purchase any quantity of firecrackers from the importers, but they may not store them. Thus, the police suspect that some operators buy firecrackers from the importers, but instead of using them, they resell them. And it's these firecrackers that end up in the territories and in East Jerusalem, the police say.

On Monday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch met with representatives of the Israel Security Agency (the Shin Bet), the Economy Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Attorney General's Office. He asked to look into the option of temporarily prohibiting the importation of the second grade fireworks into Israel.

In addition, on Sunday the cabinet proposed longer prison terms — as long as 10 years — for the use of firecrackers to injure. Police officials also decided to crack down on the importers and operators in an effort to locate the source of the firecrackers being used in the riots.