B’Tselem: Soldier kills Palestinian demonstrator Mustafa Tamimi, 28, by shooting tear-gas canister at him

by B’Tselem: 11 December 2011

On Friday, 9 December 2011, the weekly demonstration was held in the village of a-Nabi Saleh, Ramallah District, against settlers’ seizure of land belonging to Palestinian villages in the area. According to B’Tselem’s information, in the early afternoon, after the main demonstration had dispersed, several young men threw stones at an army jeep. One of them was village resident Mustafa a-Tamimi. Photos taken by photographer Haim Scwarczenberg show that the jeep turned around and began to back away. A soldier sitting in the jeep then opened the back door and fired a tear-gas canister directly at a-Tamimi, who was several meters away. The canister struck Tamimi in the face, causing extensive bleeding. Shortly afterwards, the soldiers evacuated him to Beilinson Hospital, where he died the next day. B’Tselem has documented many cases in which tear-gas canisters were fired directly at people during the weekly protest in a-Nabi Saleh, including other occasions during the same demonstration, and elsewhere in the West Bank.

Photographs of the firing directly at Tamimi, by Haim Scwarczenberg, 9 Dec. '11.
Photographs of the firing directly at a-Tamimi, by Haim Scwarczenberg, 9 Dec. ’11.

For several years now, B’Tselem has been warning officials that security forces’ fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations. The organization has demanded – both in meetings with senior military officials and by letter – that commanders clarify to soldiers serving in the field that firing tear-gas canisters directly at a person is unlawful. Tear gas is supposed to serve as a non-lethal crowd control measure, and using it as a substitute for live fire is forbidden. Therefore, firing tear-gas canisters directly at persons breaches the rules of engagement.

Such firing has resulted in serious injury and death. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bi’lin, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest. B’Tselem knows of 13 cases in which persons were seriously injured in similar circumstances since the beginning of the second intifada. B’Tselem has also documented direct firing of canisters that did not result in injury, and has provided the Military Advocate General Corps and the commander of Judea and Samaria Brigade with video footage of such firing.

The moment of firing at Tamimi. The rifle end can be seen emerging from the opened jeep door. The tear gas canister itself is seen against the backdrop of the left mirror. On the left, in the white shirt, is Mustafa Tamimi. Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg.
The moment of firing at a-Tamimi. The 40mm launcher end can be seen emerging from the opened jeep door. The tear gas canister itself is seen against the backdrop of the left mirror. On the left, in the white shirt, is Mustafa a-Tamimi. Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg.

In response to B’Tselem’s demands, the then-legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek, replied in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” In July 2011, following further requests by B’Tselem, after the direct firing continued to occur at demonstrations, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, replied that, “following your letter, we have again clarified to the forces operating in Central Command the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.” At meetings with B’Tselem, senior military officials claimed that such firing is forbidden and does not occur.

However, B’Tselem has since documented more cases in which security forces fired tear-gas canisters directly at persons. As far as B’Tselem knows, no soldier has been prosecuted for such firing. In the abovementioned case of Abu-Rahmah, which occurred in April 2009, a Military Police investigation was opened only in July 2010, and only after B’Tselem and Attorney Micha’el Sfard threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if an investigation were not initiated.

B’Tselem wrote to the office of the military advocate for operational matters to verify that an MPIU investigation had been opened in the case of a-Tamimi, in accordance with the new policy that the MAG Corps declared before the High Court of Justice. B’Tselem demanded that the investigation examine not only the conduct of the soldier who fired the canister, but also the responsibility of the command echelon, including the orders given to the soldier.

B’Tselem will provide all the material in its possession and will follow the case to make sure the investigation is effective and professional.

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