The police appear to have been using new riot control weapons for more than six months without training their officers to operate them and without issuing regulations for their use, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
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The advocacy group is urging Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to investigate the matter urgently.
Regulations governing the use of black foam-tipped bullets, also known as Model 4557, appear to have been written about a month ago, even though police have been gradually introducing the new riot control ammunition for about a year, as Haaretz reported in September.
The black bullets are heavier and cause more serious bodily harm than blue ones the police had used previously.
Police are thought to have used black foam-tipped bullets when they shot Mohammed Sunuqrut of Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood in the head in late August. In response to requests from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the police sent the group a document dated January 1 that spells out regulations for operating a “40-mm. foam gun.”
“Apparently the police have been using a new weapon with a higher potential for injury and killing, before drafting the required procedures regulating its use and the minimum permitted ranges,” Sucio said in a letter to Weinstein. “According to the date on the instructions for use, they were written only about six months after the new weapon was put into use and after many people had already been injured from it. If that is the case, the police conduct is evidently reprehensible and illegal.”
But police said the January 1 guidelines are “merely a structural change to the original procedure and not a new one.”
They said every weapon they use is “accompanied by procedure that is written and internalized before the weapon is operated, after it has been examined and authorized by professionals.”
Meanwhile, six months after Sunuqrut’s death, the Justice Ministry’s internal affairs unit has still not decided whether to indict the police officer who shot him. The investigation has been completed and the officer has been conditionally released.
The Sunuqrut family said they haven’t received the autopsy results or an update on where the case stands.
Dozens of people have said they have seen people injured after being shot with foam-tipped bullets. Some of them were seriously injured, suffering sight loss, facial fractures or injury to internal organs.
Foam-tipped bullets are fired one at a time with a specially designated projector, and are among the most prevalent riot control weapon within the Green Line. The Jerusalem Police used foam-tipped bullets extensively against Palestinian demonstrators during the disturbances last July.
The bullets are made of plastic and are 40 millimeters in diameter, with a foam tip that is intended to reduce injuries.
ACRI has collected witness testimony about four children who were seriously damaged from black foam-tipped bullets. One is Salah Mahmoud, 11, who suffered facial fractures, was operated on several times and lost sight completely in one eye and partially in the other. Two of the others are Mohammed Obeid, 5, who was shot in the face, required surgery and lost partial sight in one eye, and Ala Hamdan, 14, who required stitches in her fact and lost partial sight.
A number of journalists have also been hurt by the foam-tipped bullets, including photographer Tali Mayer, who suffered fractions in her face from a bullet fired at her from about 70 meters away.
When ACRI first asked police for the regulations governing the black foam-tipped bullets, police initially said the guidelines were the same as for the blue ones. But in mid-November the Jerusalem Police legal advisor, Michael Frankenburg, said in a statement that the police had started using “black foam” bullets for riot control in recent months. The new bullets were used after receiving all the required permits and in keeping with police regulations, he wrote.
The police guidelines dated January 1 address the use of blue and black foam-tipped bullets, providing specific instructions and cautionary measures pertaining to the black ones. For example, the permitted minimal range for firing the black bullets is further — 10 meters compared to the five-meter minimal range permitted for the blue bullets.
The directive bans using “mixed blue/black bullets at the same launch.” It also prohibits firing the black bullets at elderly people, children or women “who are obviously pregnant.” The gun must be aimed at the target’s lower body, the directive says.
Police sources told Haaretz that the weapon used to fire the black bullets is fairly accurate and that a combat veteran would not have difficulty aiming at the lower part of the body. Only veteran fighters are authorized to use the foam-tipped bullets.