In the month of February 2019 Staat van Beleg could list 719 human rights violations (and 146 reports/ analyses). (see our archive) This month a highlight on Israel’s use of teargas canisters as ammunition.
Since the start of the Great March of Return in Gaza we can read the reports of Palestinians that lost their lives by Israeli snipers and how they died. What we also read are the numbers of injuries. Some agencies even report on how people got injured. Through this reports we learned for example that Israel is using bullets resulting in serious injuries with often the need of amputations. Also the severe impact of teargas being used on peaceful marchers and protesters was being revealed. But what we also saw was the use of teargas canisters as ammunition on Palestinians and even on ambulances. This is not a new development. Israel has been doing this for years but because it were isolated cases or during protests and marches that got less media attention it was underexposed. As an indicator we will reveal some cases where teargas canisters were being used as ammunition by Israeli forces. Since the circumstances of injuries are not always being mentioned in the media we can only guess how much more Palestinians have been injured by a teargas canister.
Fatalities by Teargas Canisters
- The first Palestinian child killed by Israeli occupation forces in 2019 was struck in the head by a teargas canister during the suppression of protests in the Gaza Strip. According to Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), Abdel-Raouf Ismail Mohammad Salha – just 13-years-old – was “struck on the left side of his head by an Israeli-fired teargas canister that caused a brain injury on the afternoon of January 11”. The child was pronounced dead from his injuries three days later in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital.
- On 29 January 2019 the 47-year-old Palestinian Samir Ghazi al-Nabahin succumbed to wounds he sustained days earlier during a demonstration near the boundary with Israel. Nabahin had been struck by a teargas canister in the face fired by Israeli forces.
- The 17-year-old Palestinian Hassan Nofel died on 12 February 2019, four days after he was hit by an Israeli teargas canister during clashes along the Gaza border.
- Ahmad Samir Harb Abu Habil, 15, died on October 3, 2018 after being struck in the head by a teargas canister.
- In December 2011 Washington Post reported about the death of the 28-year-old Palestinian Mustafa Tamimi who was struck in the face by a teargas canister fired at close range by an Israeli soldier during a clash in the West Bank. In the picture below we can see the open door of an army vehicle and a soldier fired a tear-gas canister at him from a few yards away. When Israel decided to close the investigation on the killing of Tamimi the human rights organization B’Tselem came up with the following statement: “The decision to close this file joins the decision to close the file concerning Bassem Abu Rahmeh, who was also killed by a teargas canister, and whose story was later portrayed in the film “Five Broken Cameras”. This decision sends Israeli soldiers and officers the unequivocal message that, should they kill unarmed civilians, they will not be held accountable. Given this state of affairs it is hardly surprising that soldiers and Border Police officers continue to shoot teargas canisters directly at Palestinians, endangering their lives. Under such circumstances it is only a matter of time before yet another unarmed Palestinian civilian is killed in this way. For Palestinians in the West Bank the decision is a clear message that they cannot expect justice from Israel’s legal system.”
- The 29-year-old Palestinian demonstrator Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed on 17 April 2009 when he was hit by a teargas canister fired by Israeli forces during a weekly demonstration against the West Bank barrier.
Injuries by Teargas Canisters
As mentioned before there are no full reports published on how Palestinians got injured but there are some indicators.
The best indicator we could find comes from a recent report of the UN Human Rights Council following an investigation on alleged human rights violations by Israeli soldiers on civilian protests in Gaza in the period of 30 March until 31 December 2018. In the table below is stated that 1084 people were directly hit by a teargas canister.
A second indicator comes from Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organization based in Ramallah. They regularly publish accurate reports. On 14 May 2018, the deadliest day of the Great March of Return, the Israeli army killed 59 Palestinians, including seven children, a person with disability, and injured 1,861 Palestinians. To get an idea about the injuries caused by teargas canisters: “The IOF injured 276 Palestinians in the North Gaza Governorate, including 50 children and ten women. Amongst them, 249 were injured by live ammunition and 25 were injured by direct gas canister hits, while the others suffered from gas exposure, injuries, and bruises.”
- Most of us will remember the picture that went viral from the 24-year-old Palestinian man Haitham Abu Sabla whose face was severely damaged by a teargas canister that was shot into his mouth by Israeli troops during the Great March of Return in Gaza. The canister pierced his cheek and got stuck in his mouth and Abu Sabla spent three days on life support.
- While the story of Abu Sabla got huge media coverage the story of the 26-year-old Palestinian Laith Kanaan Barghouti did not reach the international media. We found his heartbreaking story by accident on the site of Wafa, a Palestinian governmental news and info agency. On 9 December 2017 Barghouti was hit by a teargas grenade fired by Israeli soldiers and lost vision at his right eye. After his injury, Barghouti spent one year visiting eye doctors hoping they would help him restore vision in his eye and treat a more serious damage the injury has caused in his head. One doctor who was in Amman at the time, told him of the possibility of planting an artificial eye for him after repairing the cavity caused in his head to separate the tear and nose ducts. This doctor, Abu Sitta, told Barghouti that he would visit Palestine as part of a medical delegation of various specialties and that he would personally do the operation for him. On the day of the operation, 24 January of this year, Israeli forces raided the family home of Barghouti and arrested him.
- On 26 January 2019 a Palestinian child was injured when a teargas canister fired by an Israeli soldier hit him in a border area east of the besieged Gaza Strip.
- On 6 October 2018 a 20-year-old Palestinian was injured in the right arm by a teargas canister that hit him directly at the demonstration in east Al-Shoka town in east Rafah district.
- Although there were conflicting reports about the death of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy Shady Abdel Aal in September 2018, eye witnesses who participated in the Great March of Return saw how Shady got hit by a teargas canister.
- On 20 May 2018 the six-year-old Palestinian boy Hasan Ahmad Issa sustained a serious head injury after being hit in the head with a high-velocity teargas canister fired by Israeli soldiers in the town of al-Khader in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem.
- On November 27, 2013, Muhmmad ‘Awad (Abu Ahmad), a B’Tselem volunteer videographer, and a resident of Beit Ummar, documented clashes between Palestinian youth and soldiers near the entrance to the town. The first video he shot depicts the soldiers standing by a jeep, and a stone landing near them. An officer is then seen firing several tear gas canisters from a “Ringo” type launcher, to the area of the stone throwers, in a position behind and to the right of the cameraman. The soldier then reloads the launcher and when another stone lands near the jeep, fires another volley or canisters: Abu Ahmad was bruised in the chest and evacuated to a clinic in the town, and was later taken to ‘Alia Hospital in Hebron, then released.
- On Friday, 9 March 2012, B’Tselem documented two serious incidents in which teargas canisters were fired directly at demonstrators in two West Bank locations.
- In an incident during protests in West Bank villages in 2009, an American activist suffered serious brain damage when a canister struck him in the head.
Targeting Journalists and Paramedics
- Recently Attia Darwish, a 31-year-old photojournalist, was hit in the face under his left eye with a teargas canister when he was covering demonstrations near the Gaza fence for a local newspaper. Attia received initial treatment for his eye injury, but needed review and specialist care outside Gaza. When WHO spoke with Attia, he still had not received his permit to leave Gaza to Jerusalem.
- On Friday 28 December 2018 during the “Great March of Return Mohammed Al-Za’anon, 32, a freelance photojournalist, was injured in the back with a teargas canister.
- On 11 May 2018 3 journalists where injured by teargas canisters during the Great March of Return in Gaza. Hamza al-Shami, a freelance photographer, was hit by a teargas canister in the shoulder and then inhaled teargas causing him to faint while covering the protests east of Khan Younis. Suleiman abu Zarifa, a freelance photographer, was hit by a teargas canister in his foot while covering the protests east of Khan Younis. And Mohammed abu Qadoos, a cameraperson for the Hamas-affiliated local news agency Siraj Media Network, was hit in the head by a teargas canister while covering protests east of Gaza City.
- On Friday 22 February 2019 during the Great March of Return in Gaza the Palestinian volunteering medic, Fares al-Qedra, was shot with a teargas canister in the head.
- On Friday 4 January 2019 during the Great March of Return in Gaza three paramedics were hit with teargas canisters.
- On 28 December 2018 during the Great March of Return in Gaza Dalia Abu Reeda, 20, a volunteering paramedic, was injured in the back with a teargas canister and Ahmed Al-Naqa, 32, a paramedic with the Palestinian Civil Defence, was injured in the chest by a teargas canister.
Targeting Vehicles and Ambulances
- On 2 March 2019 the Israeli army targeted several ambulances with teargas canisters in Gaza.
- On 1 March 2019 during the Great March of Return in Gaza Israeli forces directly hit a PRSC ambulance with a teargas canister, east of Rafah.
- On 9 February 2019 Israeli forces targeted a vehicle belonging to the Palestinian Civil Defense with teargas canisters.
- On 28 December 2018 during the Great March of Return in Gaza two ambulances, one for the Civil Defence and the other for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, were partially damaged as Israeli forces fired teargas canisters at the demonstration in east Rafah.
Protocol on how to use Teargas as Crowd Control
Use of teargas in warfare (as with all other chemical weapons) is prohibited by various international treaties that most states have signed. Police and private self-defense use is not banned in the same manner. Armed forces can legally use tear gas for drills (practicing with gas masks) and for riot control. Typical manufacturer warnings on teargas cartridges state “Danger: Do not fire directly at person(s). Severe injury or death may result.” Such warnings are not necessarily respected, and in some countries, disrespecting these warnings is routine. However, teargas guns do not have a manual setting to adjust the range of fire. The only way to adjust the projectile’s range is to aim towards the ground at the correct angle. Incorrect aim will send the capsules away from the targets, causing risk for non-targets instead.
We may conclude that there is enough evidence that firing of teargas canisters directly at individuals is a routine practice by soldiers and border police officers in the West Bank and at the border of Gaza. It has already claimed the lives of people and has injured others in recent years. It is an easy way to injure people that are gathering in marches and protests. It has the benefit of the doubt that it could give the impression that marchers or protesters were accidentally hit by a teargas canister. It can injure people without claims that life fire was being used on peaceful protesters. The injuries from teargas canisters are often severe and can result in lifetime disabilities.