Israel’s ‘new’ policy of shooting stone throwers is directed exclusively against Arabs from East Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev), while ensuring that customary rules of engagement are applied to Jewish stone throwers.
By Mohammad Bassam
The Israeli security cabinet, backed by the attorney general, recently approved a series of measures that, according to the government, are meant to deter Palestinians from throwing stones. Along with the collective punishment of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, the government permitted the police to use open gunfire with live bullets, to ignore the distinction between adult and child stone-throwers, and to use .22 caliber “Ruger” sniper rifles. These steps demonstrate that the events of October 2000 15 years ago, in which 13 young Palestinian men — 12 of them Israeli citizens — were killed by Israeli police forces, were not inadvertent mistakes, but rather the outcome of a longstanding and systemic racist policy.
As a rule, the use of potentially lethal methods such as live fire — which according to Israeli law is supposed to apply to the whole population regardless of nationality or race — are prohibited unless a number of terms and conditions exist that derive from the doctrine of “necessity” in criminal law. According to this doctrine, the use of lethal weapons is permitted only in extreme and highly exceptional circumstances in which there is a real, immediate physical danger to human life and well-being, and when all less lethal means have been exhausted. The new regulations relating to stone throwers starkly deviate from the law, and instead seek to apply harsher laws to “offenders” in the Arab population.
The new regulations once again prove that Israel implements a racist policy which views Palestinian citizens and residents as a security and demographic threat to the state. The implementation of the new policy is meant exclusively against Arab stone throwers from East Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev), while ensuring that Israel’s customary rules of engagement continue to be applied against Jewish stone throwers. This policy is driven by double standards in regards to how Israeli law enforcement authorities handle demonstrations, public gatherings and clashes with various population groups. It should be obvious that the motive behind throwing a stone, or the national-ideological identity of the stone-thrower, has no differing effect on the potential danger that this act can pose to civilian passersby. The state’s racist approach is also clear in light of data that reveals that since 2000, Israeli security forces have killed 48 Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Or Commission Report that examined the October 2000 events not only analyzed the manner in which the security forces and the government responded to the wave of demonstrations, but also delved into the deep, underlying causes that led to the uprising against everything that symbolizes the Israeli establishment. Behind the clashes — the stone throwing, barricading of roads, and the rolling of burning tires — were the experiences of long years of oppression, discrimination, racism, and bloody history that are engraved in the consciousness of every member of the Palestinian minority.
The suffering of young Palestinians in East Jerusalem is even graver. Behind every stone thrown and behind every confrontation with the police stands a person who feels humiliated. Israeli governments over the years have adopted a deliberate policy aimed at forcing Palestinian residents out of East Jerusalem. Decades of occupation, land dispossession, home demolitions and settlements aimed at “Judaizing” Arab neighborhoods have thus driven young Palestinians into taking actions that will focus the spotlight on the unbearable circumstances of their lives.
In view of this, from the judicial and legal aspect, changing the rules of engagement and expanding the use of live fire against stone throwers is inevitably disastrous. It is important to note that the current legal situation already grants the police broad discretion regarding the extent and timing of the use of lethal force, exempting them from criminal liability when they employ these methods to stave off an immediate and real danger to human life. The police, undeniably, already use lethal means against Palestinian citizens and residents without ever being investigated adequately and professionally.
Thus, 15 years after October 2000, Israel’s racist policy persists. The Or Commission Report pointed to the use of excessive and unnecessary force as one of the causes of the escalation of the October clashes, yet those responsible have not paid any price for their actions. Expanding the discretion of police officers would further exacerbate their trigger-prone policy and exempt the police from criminal liability — even in cases where police employ live ammunition against stone throwers as if they are judge, jury and executioner.
Yet again, the lives of young Palestinian Arabs will continue to be forsaken by the state.
Mohammad Bassam is an attorney at Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. This article was first published in Hebrew on Haokets.