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How the Israeli army obfuscates its use of live fire against Palestinians

Recent statements by unnamed military sources attempt to confuse the issue of lower-powered but completely lethal ammunition used against Palestinians.

Text and photo by: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org

An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

An Israeli sniper aims a silenced Ruger 10/22 rifle from a tower in the separation wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian youth, March 11, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Let’s be clear: the Israeli military uses many kinds of weapons to kill and maim Palestinians in the West Bank. Many of them are “less-lethal” weapons intended to disperse crowds at demonstrations. Sometimes the people shot are among those throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Sometimes they’re not. Every once in a while they’re journalists or human rights observers. Often these weapons are employed in routine violation of the regulations that are supposed to govern their use. B’Tselem wrote a report about the habitual illegal use of such weapons. Amnesty International titled a similar report, “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank.”

One aspect of this troubling trend is the increasing use of live ammunition as a crowd control weapon. A new layer of this lethal trend is an accompanying attempt by military sources to obfuscate their nature and justify their use. Ido Kenan recently wrote about how unattributed military sources are frequently steno graphed by Israeli media. Two recent likely examples — striking because the phrasing is so similar in two different newspapers — appear in reports on the death of Palestinian youth Ziad Awad, who was shot dead by Israeli forces in clashes following his cousin’s funeral last week:


The force reported it opened fire with tear gas and stun grenades, and later fired at four Palestinians using a certain type of bullet, a 22 caliber known as “Ruger” fired from a special weapon designed for just that purpose, which have less powerful effects compared to regular live ammunition.

Jerusalem Post:

Soldiers responded by firing 0.22 caliber bullets from a Ruger rifle, which fires weaker shots compared to live fire, according to the sources. Non-lethal crowd control measures were also deployed during the incident.

Both papers cite anonymous — and therefore unaccountable — military sources who describe these smaller bullets as somehow not the same thing as “live fire.” The Jerusalem Post even includes this unattributed direct quote:

“The incident is still being checked. We did not use live fire,” one army source added.

First, there is the striking irresponsibility of both Haaretz and Jerusalem Post journalists for not providing any further context as to what constitutes “live ammunition,” despite thorough documentation by B’Tselem and others.

Then there is the shocking claim by the unnamed military source that these bullets are somehow not “live fire.” If you didn’t grow up with guns in the house, allow me to explain: the main difference between a 0.22 caliber bullet and the 0.223 caliber/5.56 mm bullets used in the Israeli military’s standard issue rifles is the amount of gunpowder behind the bullet, affecting its speed and range. While the size and shape of a bullet does affect how badly it will injure someone, both are live ammunition by any reasonable definition. Both can and do kill.

While living in Washington, D.C., I was once mugged and had a 0.22 pistol held to the back of my head. At the time, I didn’t give a shit that it was small caliber. I’m also relatively certain that the family and friends of Ziad Awad, who was likely killed by this kind of ammunition, don’t give a shit about the caliber of the bullet either.

More background from B’Tselem’s recent report, (emphasis added):

In July 2009, following repeated warnings by B’Tselem that 0.22 bullets were being used unlawfully to disperse protests and may lead to the death of demonstrators, the previous MAG – Maj. General Avihai Mendelblit – wrote to B’Tselem that “the Ruger and similar means are not classified by the IDF as means for dispersing demonstrations or public disturbances. The rules for use of these means in Judea and Samaria are stringent, and comparable to the rules for opening fire with ‘live’ ammunition.” Earlier that year, in March 2009, Major Yehoshua Gurtler of the MAG Corps wrote to B’Tselem that “the IDF does not consider this means (the Ruger rifle) a substitute for the use of means for dispersing disturbances of the peace (such as stun grenades, rubber bullets, etc.” These answers, given to B’Tselem four and a half years ago, were not an accurate reflection of reality in the field even at the time they were given.

For years, B’Tselem has been cautioning against the Israeli military’s use of 0.22 bullets, and has repeatedly shown that statements made on the matter by the IDF Spokesperson and by military and Border Police officers contradict those made by the MAG Corps. The practical message conveyed by the military to soldiers in the field is that 0.22 bullets are not lethal ammunition, but rather another crowd control measure. This message is not only unlawful but puts people’s lives in danger.

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    1. John Farmer

      It’s a rather normal 22 rim fire rifle with a silencer firing bullet at velocities below the speed of sound(sub-sonic). The ammunition can be used to cripple selected individuals with shots to joints or flesh and can be effective in assassinating people with head shots. In fact silenced 22 rimfire is the favored tool of assassins
      world wide.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Context: Multiple violent riots, Molotov Cocktails thrown, live fire permitted

      Palestinians held multiple riots during the funeral of a convicted terrorist who had died of natural causes. He had been released from prison to die at home. Palestinians blamed Israel for not preventing or curing the inmate’s sickness. A cousin of the terrorist died during the riots. During these riots the Palestinians threw Molotov Cocktails and burning tires at the Israeli forces. Jpost reported:

      “An army spokeswoman said multiple riots occurred simultaneously in the area, and that in addition to rocks and Molotov cocktails, burning tires were hurled at soldiers, who were stationed in the area to protect roads.

      Soldiers fired Ruger rifle shots at four rioters identified as being ringleaders in the disturbances, the spokeswoman added, striking all four.”

      The problem here is not the reaction of the Israeli forces, but the violent actions of the Palestinians engaging in violent behavior. What was the Palestinian purpose of holding multiple violent riots, throwing rocks, firebombs and burning tires at the Israeli forces except to try to injure or kill Israeli forces.

      Maybe Palestinians should start taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Throwing of Molotov Cocktails permits a live fire response.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        Do you know any Palestinians personally?

        Reply to Comment
      • Weiss


        Warsaw Ghetto – version 2.0

        … And that’s WHY they resist Schlomo…

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Context: PedroX. The article makes two points, neither of which you address, and to which your point about Molotov cocktails is irrelevant. (1) “Often these weapons are employed in routine violation of the regulations” and even to target “journalists or human rights activists”, and (2) the IDF is being less than honest (i.e. dishonest) in describing 0.22 bullets as non lethal.

        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Further context from Maan news. Maan news published this report uncontradicted by Palestinians:

        “An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma’an that a “violent riot” had broken out in Beit Ummar in which locals “hurled rocks and molotov cocktails” and “rolled burning tires” at Israeli soldiers.

        “Feeling an immediate threat, soldiers used riot dispersal means” against the crowd, but “the rioters refused to halt.”

        As a result, soldiers “fired at instigators at their lower extremities with .22 caliber bullets.” She said that four “hits” were confirmed.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Phil

          The article is about the lethality of .22 weapons and how this is downplayed by both the army and the israeli media

          As it has been pointed out to you, your posts on this article have no relevance to the subject matter.

          Nonetheless, and although it is a waste of time, there are few things to point out to you

          1. Jaafar Awad had not been convicted of any crime. He was administratively detained.

          2. All the references you give to molotov cocktails/riots etc are all based on a single person’s account – the military spokeperson – whose track record of veracity is dubious at the least

          3. No mention is given regarding why the army were in a village during a funeral,

          But of course none of this matters to you Pedro because in your eyes all goyim are simply untermenschen, isn’t that true?

          Reply to Comment
    3. Xor

      Why should any military in the first place disclose its weapon types or ammunition?
      The author saying the media or the army tries to mislead…
      This seems one of those saying nothing articles just to mention palestinians….

      At least be true to your journalist profession, do some investigation and provide some minimal background on ammunition, ballistics or simple school grade physics – kinetics.

      You can shoot a tiny pebble from a compressed air gun at high enough velocity to penetrate a brick wall not to mention a rib cage or a human skull. If its mussel is bored one, same pebble will cause much more damage with an exit wound 10 times larger than its entry wound.
      At the same time you can shoot a rubber dildo from a canon and it won’t be lethal.

      All weapons intended for killing, what matters is the type of ammo used and its operator.

      There are hundred types of 0.22 ammunition.
      Being shot by the same bullet from an Israeli standard issued assault rifle of 0.22 caliber is much worse than being shot by a Roger 0.22 caliber.

      If you want to discuss opening fire orders and rules of engagement that’s a totally different story.

      Reply to Comment