Israel Police Refuse to Reveal Protocol on Use of Controversial Sniper Rifles

In response to petition by Israeli Arab law center, police reveal a heavily censored document, redacting parts relating to use of supposedly 'non-lethal' Ruger rifle. Several Palestinians, including children, were killed by Ruger fire.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
An IDF sniper with his Ruger rifle across his chest and his M-16 over a shoulder.
An IDF sniper with his Ruger rifle across his chest and his M-16 over a shoulder.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Israel Police are refusing to reveal all of their rules of engagement for dispersing demonstrations, particularly those pertaining to the use of Ruger rifles used by snipers.

Though the Ruger is defined as a nonlethal weapon, several Palestinians have been killed after police or soldiers opened fire with it.

Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed a court petition recently, demanding that the police’s new rules of engagement be made public. The rules were revised last December – with the attorney general’s approval – in response to the new wave of Palestinian terror attacks that began last October.

In response to the petition, the police sent Adalah a document a few days ago, which details some of the new rules. But an entire section of the document, Appendix 2, is missing. Moreover, even in the sections that were given to Adalah, several key paragraphs have been blacked out.

However, even the redacted document reveals that the police are allowed to immediately use live fire against Palestinians who throw stones using slingshots or hurl firebombs or firecrackers, without any need to resort to less lethal methods first.

“A policeman is entitled to open fire at a person who is clearly seen to be throwing, or about to throw, a firebomb, or who is shooting off or about to shoot off firecrackers aimed directly [at a target], in order to avert the danger,” the document states.

It later adds that “throwing stones with a slingshot is an example of a case that justifies using live, lethal fire.”

The .22-caliber Ruger rifle uses regular ammunition but has a relatively low muzzle speed. It is generally used by snipers and is supposed to be aimed at demonstrators’ lower bodies.

At one time, the army also used the Ruger to disperse demonstrations. But in December 2001, after several Palestinians – some of them children – were killed by Ruger fire during the first months of the second intifada, then-Military Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein ruled that the Ruger constituted a firearm in every respect and should no longer be used to disperse demonstrations.

Adalah attorney Mohammad Bassam said that in light of the police refusal to divulge all their rules of engagement, the organization will petition the court again.

“We asked them to divulge all the rules, but the police decided in response to give us a document that had already been published,” he said. “Therefore, we’ll go back to court.”

Bassam alleged that the new rules allow the police “to kill in an unbridled, criminal fashion. The chances that something like throwing stones or shooting off firecrackers will constitute a danger to human life are extremely small, and there’s no doubt it’s possible to deal with such incidents via nonlethal means. The new rules treat these incidents like acts of war, give legitimacy to a light trigger finger and, thereby, permit shedding the blood and taking the lives of Palestinian teens.”

A police spokesperson said Adalah had been given “every detail relevant to this discussion, as long as it doesn’t reveal the police’s classified methods and tools, and does not undermine, or potentially undermine, their operational activity.”

Regarding the Ruger, the police said their rules for using the rifle “constitute operational orders that can’t be published for fear of revealing the police’s methods of operation, which would endanger lives and impede the police’s functioning.”

But it insisted that the Ruger is used only “in life-threatening situations, in which it is legally permissible to use even more lethal weapons. Nevertheless, because of our desire to minimize harm and eliminate the danger via methods that cause less harm, the police have chosen, wherever possible, to use a weapon that usually isn’t lethal, that is more accurate than other weapons and that is used by marksmen trained for it.”

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