Police's Use of Sponge Rounds Must Be Strictly According to Protocol

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Israeli police throw grenades during clashes with Palestinians in East Jerusalem after the funeral of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Sunukrut, 16, September 8, 2014.Credit: AFP

Mohammed Sunuqrut, 16, was the first Palestinian fatality in East Jerusalem in the protests that have broken out there following the July 2 murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. To the credit of the Jerusalem police, it should be said that despite the large number of confrontations, officers have largely managed to reduce the friction and avoid serious injuries among the Palestinian demonstrators. The main weapon used by the police is sponge rounds, which were introduced following the Or Commission report, which prohibited the use of the notorious rubber- or plastic-tipped bullets.

But as reported by Nir Hasson, a new type of sponge round has recently been adopted, black in color and heavier, harder and more dangerous than the blue ones used previously. Even though the final results of Sunuqrut’s autopsy have not been released, it can be assumed that the cause of death was a black sponge round fired at close range at his head.

Sunuqrut joins a list of other Palestinians and journalists who have been injured by sponge round. A letter sent by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, for example, mentions Taysir Sandouka, who is blind in one eye and, after being hit in the “good eye” by a sponge round, may lose his remaining eyesight. Photographer Tali Mayer, WAFA journalist Christine Rinawi and CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman recently suffered injuries to the face, upper body and head, respectively, after being hit by sponge rounds in Jerusalem.

Israel Police protocol explicitly prohibits firing sponge rounds of any type at the upper body. The above cases and others indicate that police officers are not strict about complying with this regulation. After the introduction of the black sponge round, the breach of protocol has become life-endangering.

In the wake of the death of Sunuqrut and the injuries to other individuals caused by sponge rounds, the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers must carry out an honest examination into the circumstances of the shootings. The police version of Sunuqrut’s death is that he fell and hit his head on the sidewalk after being hit in the leg by a sponge round. The contradiction between this version and the findings of the postmortem suggest that, as in previous cases, the police are trying to cover up the truth.

The violence in East Jerusalem reached new heights this summer, and the police there are stretched to breaking point. In light of this and in order to prevent anyone else from being injured, the police must strictly observe all safety precautions and rules of operation for the means at their disposal, and investigate fully any violation of protocol.

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