A 12-year-old boy from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah was in critical condition on Thursday after being hit in the head by sponge-tipped rounds fired by Israeli Border Police forces on Wednesday.
The boy, Ahmad Abu Hummus, was admitted to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in the city with possible brain damage. Since Israel's introduction of black foam-tipped bullets for crowd control over two years ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has documented 26 cases of serious injuries resulting from their use.
According to local residents, dozens of Border Police officers entered Isawiyah on Wednesday afternoon. Children and teenagers threw rocks at them, and the officers responded with by firing tear gas and sponge-tipped rounds. Abu Hummus was hit in the head and lost consciousness. It isn't yet known whether he was hit by more than one of the bullets.
Residents of the neighborhood took him to a local clinic, from which he was taken in a Magen David Adom ambulance to the Israeli hospital, where he underwent a four-hour operation. Physicians said he suffered skull fractures and could have brain damage.
In a statement, the hospital confirmed that a 12-year-old boy from Isawiyah was being treated in Hadassah Ein Kerem's pediatric intensive care unit for injuries to the head and eye. "He is in serious condition, he underwent surgery and is now sedated and on a respirator," Hadassah Medical Center said.
Police protocol specifies that sponge-tipped rounds must be aimed at the lower body and their use against children or pregnant women is prohibited. An investigation by Haaretz in September 2014 revealed that the Israel Police had gradually introduced the use of black sponge-tipped rounds for riot control, known as Model 4557. These bullets are heavier and thus cause greater injury than the blue sponge-tipped rounds the police had been using previously.
According to ACRI, 15 people have lost an eye after being hit by a black sponge round fired by Israeli forces, six of them minors, the youngest of them a 6-year-old boy.
In September 2014 Mohammed Sunuqrut, a 16-year-old Palestinian from Jerusalem, died after after he was wounded during a demonstration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz.
Sunuqrut's family says he was shot in the head at close range with a sponge-tipped bullet. The Jerusalem Police rejected their claim, saying he was shot by a spongeni-tipped round in the leg and died as a result of falling and hitting his head on the pavement. An investigation by the Justice Ministry department that probes possible police misconduct was unproductive.
In a number of other cases, the department closed the investigation after determining that the shooter's identity could not be established. That was the case in the investigation after news photographer Tali Mayer was wounded in the face by a sponge-tipped bullet in July 2014.
In a letter sent around a month ago to ACRI attorney Anne Suciu, Deputy Police Commissioner Commander Haim Blumenfeld wrote that sponge-tipped bullets were used in order to prevent police officers from life-threatening situations, adding that in cases where there is a genuine risk to life, a police officer, like any citizen, may use any means available to avert that threat.
"I note that the issue of the use of black sponge-tipped rounds was reviewed by a special team set up for this purpose under the direction of the chief of police," Blumenfeld wrote. He added that the protocols for using the rounds have been revised, with an emphasis on supervision and control on the use of the rounds in various events.
In a response, the Jerusalem police said that two officers were wounded during the public disturbances in Isawiyah, and that "methods were employed against rioters who posed a lethal risk."
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