The Ruger rifle, which is used against Palestinian stone-throwers and demonstrators in the territories, should be considered a live weapon and not a nonlethal one, Judge Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein decided recently. As a result, the use of the Ruger is likely to be sharply restricted.
The classification of the Ruger as either a live or a nonlethal weapon that is unlikely to cause the death of those targeted by it has been the subject of a stormy and protracted debate in the Israel Defense Forces.
Items like tear gas and rubber-coated bullets are classified as nonlethal. However, the Ruger, which shoots 0.22 caliber bullets, has a relatively low muzzle speed and makes little noise when fired, is also used as a sniper rifle.
When the rules of engagement were relaxed at the start of the intifada, the IDF let troops use the Ruger against stone-throwers and demonstrators. However, a number of Palestinians, including children, have been killed due to the rifle's use.
The Ruger has been used primarily in Gaza, since the head of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Doron Almog, is among those who favor the nonlethal definition. In contrast, Central Command, responsible for the West Bank, barred the use of the rifle against demonstrators more than half a year ago after concluding that soldiers frequently fired it even when they were not in danger, thereby causing unjustified Palestinian casualties.
"The mistake was that the Ruger came to be seen as a means of dispersing demonstrations, in contrast to its original purpose as a weapon in every respect," said a senior IDF officer. "The ballistics of the bullet are different from those of regular bullets, and as a result, it is liable to cause excessive damage when used indiscriminately."
The IDF Spokesman's Office said yesterday that the army is not in the habit of detailing its rules of engagement or commenting on publications on the issue.
Five dead children haunt army
The matter of the five children killed by a land mine in Khan Yunis in November came up yesterday in the Knesset when Finkelstein appeared before the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
According to committee chair MK Ophir Pines-Paz of Labor, "the whitewashes [investigations like the one into the death of the five children] are very costly to us," with Finkelstein responding that he does not intend to cover up war crimes or prevent inquiries.
Finkelstein said that the operational findings in the Khan Yunis case were presented to the chief of staff last week, but the JAG intends to study the report and has not ruled out the possibility of opening a Military Police inquiry.