Israeli police can now use snipers to open fire on stone-throwing Palestinian and Bedouin youth in some parts of the country. While government officials say the snipers are non-lethal, the weapons have killed Palestinian children in the past.
Police in Jerusalem and southern parts of Israel will now be equipped Ruger .22-caliber rifles to shoot at the stone throwers, who have recently targeted car passengers and houses. According to the policy shift, authorized by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, officers can only shoot if the stone throwers are endangering the lives of people in cars or houses. Police are only permitted to fire at targets’ legs, and officers are expected to participate in sharpshooting training at the National Police Academy.
But even with those restrictions, the policy could lead to the deaths of more kids. In July, 17-year-old Mohammed Kasbeh, was shot and killed for throwing rocks at an IDF commander’s vehicle. Commander Col Yisrael Shomer said he fired because he feared for his life as Palestinian youth threw rocks at his military vehicle. Witnesses counter that claim, saying Kasbeh did throw stones, but attempted to flee when Israeli soldiers chased after him on foot. A medical examiner concluded Kasbeh was shot in the back and head.
The decision to equip Israeli police with the Ruger rifles was made nearly three weeks after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged security officials to consider changes to law enforcement policy, in order to deal with the stone throwers. Prior to the policy shift, the ability to use the rifles was limited to the Israel Defense Force (IDF).
“Since the justice system finds it difficult to deal with minors who throw rocks, changes to orders on opening fire towards stone- and petrol bomb-throwers will be examined,” the Prime Minister’s office wrote in a statement earlier this month. At the time, Netanyahu also shared his zero-tolerance view on stone-throwing. He also plans to fast-track a law to enforce 20-year minimum prison sentences for people who throw stones and firebombs at moving cars.
Critics of the new policy, including Palestine Liberation Organisation executive Wasel Abu Youssef, say it’s a way to kill Palestinians outright. “This rightist Israeli fanatic government is pursuing its criminal policy to kill Palestinians. The new regulations would mean more escalation, killings and crimes against our people,” he told the Guardian.
Claims that the rifles are non-lethal have also drawn scrutiny. Israeli police were once authorized to use them in the past, but during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada, the weapons killed a number of youth in the West Bank. Police were subsequently prohibited from using the guns.