The police began using drones that drop tear gas grenades on demonstrators last week, three years after they were first used at the Gaza border.
Their use on a wider scale was approved by the police last week, and they were used in the West Bank and Jerusalem for the first time over the last weekend, during a protest by Palestinian demonstrators near Rachel’s Tomb, just outside Bethlehem, and at another demonstration near the Qalandiya checkpoint in north Jerusalem.
During the 2018 protests at the Gaza border, the drones were operated by the Border Police, which was then headed by current Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
Since experimenting with these drones along the Gaza Strip border, the police and Border Police have worked on further developing them, promoted by Commissioner Shabtai, with the help of Israel’s defense industries. The drone is operated by remote control and can drop between six and 12 canisters from the air.
An attached camera helps in locating targets and in ensuring precision. Shabtai has mentioned using these drones in the past, saying that “beyond reducing risks to our forces, it enables us to reach places we couldn’t reach before.” When drones were first used in Gaza, Palestinians claimed that they were not as accurate as advertised, with canisters dropped on uninvolved people.
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The drones are currently operated by the tactical division of the Border Police, which is deployed to demonstrations when needed. Using them requires the approval of a senior commander of the area in which a demonstration is taking place.
They are part of a category of measures that are supposed to be used in the most extreme cases, when there is a disruption of public order and lack of adherence to police orders, with violence on the part of demonstrators that includes throwing objects that can injure or damage property. Batons and sponge-tipped bullets are also in this category. A lower category includes stun grenades and water cannons, which have been used heavily over the last year.
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The police said that “after development that took over a year to complete, the drone was first used in 2018, under the army’s jurisdiction, in demonstrations along the Gaza Strip border.”
The police stated: “These measures proved to be effective in maintaining a distance between soldiers and demonstrators. During the approval process by the police, which took several years, safety aspects were examined, as well as operational advantages and licensing issues. The highest operational standards were adhered to."
"We cannot divulge the details of their operational capabilities and limitations, but this is a method using advanced technology, which increases the scope of police operations, giving an effective response while minimizing friction between our forces and demonstrators, thereby limiting injuries. The police, like other security forces, are developing new measures based on changing challenges and advanced technologies, in order to improve their operations and make them more efficient,” the statement concluded.