'Israeli Troops Use Rubber Bullets Against IDF Regulations'

In aftermath of Nakba Day shootings, Haaretz has learned that soldiers sometimes intentionally misuse ammo to cause more harm.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Palestinians carrying a protester who was wounded during clashes with Israeli troops outside Ofer Prison on May 15.
Palestinians carrying a protester who was wounded during clashes with Israeli troops outside Ofer Prison on May 15.Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Soldiers fired rubber-coated metal bullets, not live ones, as well as gas and stun guns in Beitunia, where two teenage Palestinian boys were killed after a Nakba Day demonstration two weeks ago, IDF sources said.

However, Haaretz has learned that soldiers sometimes separate the rubber-coated bullets, which come in packs of three, and insert them separately into the adapter on the rifle muzzle to achieve a more harmful effect — even though the army forbids this. Military police are investigating this angle of the incident, which has gained international attention since private security cameras showed Nadeem Nuwara and Mohammed Salameh, who had been throwing rocks at soldiers during a protest, getting shot to death while they were doing nothing but walking along a road.

The rules of engagement allow firing rubber-coated metal bullets from no closer than a few dozen meters, and only by those who have been especially trained for it, in order to prevent a fatal shot.

However, according to the B’tselem human rights NGO, from the start of the second intifada in September 2000 to the beginning of this year, 21 Palestinians were killed after being shot with rubber-coated metal bullets.

The rules of engagement also require the commander on the ground to supervise the firing of rubber-coated bullets. Only afterward, if the violent disruption of order does not stop “within reasonable time,” are soldiers permitted to fire a warning shot into the air “after making sure the firearm’s aim does not endanger any person or property,” according to the rules.

Military instructions allow shooting at a rioter whom the army sees as “a major instigator.” In such a case, though, the soldiers must first use a “less deadly” weapon.

Making soldiers trigger-happy

B’tselem says that viewing rubber-coated bullets as being less deadly than live ones tends to make soldiers trigger-happy. Rubber-coated bullets can kill when used contrary to orders – mainly when fired from short range.

One soldier told Haaretz that technically it is not possible to fire live bullets with the device used to fire rubber-coated bullets.

“An ordinary [live] bullet doesn’t go through [the device], it’s a few millimeters [long] and intended to create gas that will make the rubber fly. The explicit orders are not to shoot to the center of the body or higher, only to the legs,” he said.

The IDF is continuing its investigation into the Palestinian boys’ deaths, with the help of photographs of the bullet wounds and medical reports that can shed light on the case.

Michael Hartman, who used to be in charge of sniper and assault rifles in the IDF, said yesterday he has no doubt that if a live bullet was fired through the device attached to the rifle muzzle for rubber-coated bullets, it would not fly in a straight line.

“One of two things would happen — it would completely throw the device off the rifle, because the live bullet would be blocked by the metal, or the bullet would be blocked and fall apart. Apart from that, it would be very painful to the shooter, because the recoil to his shoulder would be at least four times stronger than usual,” he said.

The IDF said it sees the utmost importance in protecting the safety of the West Bank residents and maintaining the fabric of life in the area. The defense forces operate in the West Bank according to orders and procedures. We stress that we are making a thoughtful, graded use of all the riot dispersion means at the IDF’s disposal all the time.

As for the Beitunia event, a Military Police investigation has been opened and when completed its findings will be passed to the Military Adjutant General.

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