Israeli troops shoot Palestinian activist in head with ‘less lethal’ bullet

The veteran activist, known for leading non-violent popular protests in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, was shot with a ‘sponge-tipped’ bullet, causing a head injury. Police later shackled him to his hospital bed.

Muhammad Amira, shackled to his bed and accompanied by Israeli Border Police officers, is moved through a hallway at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, April 14, 2017. (Photo by Sarit Michaeli)
Muhammad Amira, shackled to his bed and accompanied by Israeli Border Police officers, is moved through a hallway at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, April 14, 2017. (Photo by Sarit Michaeli)

Israel Border Police officers shot Muhammed Amira in the head with a sponge-tipped bullet at close range during a weekly protest against the separation wall on Friday, activists and the man’s attorney said. Amira, also known as Abu Nasser, is a well known figure who has been leading unarmed popular protests against Israel’s separation wall in his village of Ni’lin since 2007, when the protests began. Amira, 47, is a science teacher at the local school and is married with four children. In 2009, he helped organize an exhibition in the village about the Holocaust to increase Palestinian awareness of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people.

Amira was armed only with his usual megaphone when Israeli Border Police officers shot him in the back of the head with a sponge-tipped bullet, according to activists who were at the protest that day. As seen in the photo above, Amira was shackled to his hospital bed while being treated for internal bleeding in his head, according to Sarit Michaeli of human rights organization B’Tselem, who visited him at Sheba Medical Center outside of Tel Aviv.

Read also: Israel ‘punishes’ Ni’lin activist, denies access to trees behind the wall

The policemen who arrested Amira claimed he was throwing stones, although he is known for trying to prevent youth in Ni’lin from throwing stones during protests and maintaining an entirely non-violent resistance despite the violence Israel uses to suppress them.

Israeli activist Yaron Ben-Haim, who goes to Ni’lin regularly and videotapes the protests, told +972 Magazine, “[Amira] has never thrown a stone in his life.” Ben-Haim did not see the shooting itself, but described a situation in which the police ambushed Amira, having been overheard on the other side of the barrier saying that they needed to get people away from him, to isolate him. He says heard a shot and then saw police running toward Amira to arrest him. Ben-Haim was with him at the hospital, where he overheard one of the police officers saying to Amira, “shut up, you’re lucky you are here.”

Amira’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, told +972 Magazine that it appears police are trying to frame him with the stone-throwing charge to cover up for the fact that they shot him.

I haven’t seen any report of the event in the Hebrew or English Israeli media, save for a breaking news ticker that stated “troops shot and arrested a terrorist who threw stones.”

Amira has been arrested several times in the past. In 2011, he was put on trial and acquitted in an Israeli military court for charges of incitement, support of a hostile organization and obstructing a soldier.

Amira climbs next to the Separation Wall in order to see if Israeli soldiers have arrived to open the agricultural gate.
A file photo of Muhammad Amira peering over the Separation Wall to check on his agricultural land, which he is separated from by Israel’s separation wall, Ni’lin, West Bank, October 21, 2013. (Keren Manor/ Read more.

Israel’s suppression of the popular struggle in Ni’lin has claimed the lives of five residents over the years, one of them a 10-year-old boy named Ahmad Musa. The border policeman who shot him was later acquitted of manslaughter and convicted on a lesser charge of illegal use of a weapon. Countless residents, as well as Israeli and international activists, have also been wounded in Ni’lin, among them U.S. citizen Tristan Anderson, who Israeli soldiers shot in the head with a high-velocity tear gas canister in March 2009, leaving him permanently disabled.

Police regulations forbid firing “less lethal” munitions like sponge-tipped bullets at the upper body because they can be fatal or cause serious injury if they strike the head or torso.

“Less lethal” munitions, such as rubber-coated bullets, sponge-tipped bullets, and tear gas canisters can be deadly when fired at close range and/or directly at somebody. Sponge-tipped bullets, like the one police shot Amira with, have caused dozens of serious head injuries and even deaths when used by Israeli police against Palestinians, primarily in East Jerusalem.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, three years ago Israeli police started using a type of sponge-tipped bullet that is “twice as hard and heavy and their potential to cause injury is much greater.”

While the use of such weapons is heavily regulated on paper, ACRI attorney Anne Suciu told +972 Magazine last year that in practice police do not follow their own regulations. “[Sponge-tipped bullets] are fired indiscriminately towards crowds, and that is how they keep hitting people that have nothing to do with the demonstrations,” she said. “The regulations say they are not supposed to be fired at children or the upper body.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office provided the following response:

During the course of a violent and illegal disturbance of the peace that took place on April 4 in Ni’lin, around 40 Palestinians threw stones and flaming tires toward the troops. The troops responded with sponge bullets toward Abu Nasser who threw stones. As a result of the fire, he tripped, fell and hit his head. He was treated on the spot and later evacuated to Tel Hashomer Hospital. He was released from the hospital on March 16, 2017 and transferred to the jail at Ofer Prison.