Police allowed to shoot stone throwers: Botched redaction reveals rules of engagement

Israeli police are pressured to release new rules of engagement for using live ammunition. The document reveals cops are allowed to shoot stone throwers. The kicker: police tried to black out some of the regulations, but their black marker was running low on ink.

File photo of Israeli police aiming their rifles at Palestinian protesters. (Activestills.org)
File photo of Israeli police aiming their rifles at Palestinian protesters. (Activestills.org)

Israel Police revealed its live-fire rules of engagement Monday in response to a court petition filed by civil rights group Adalah. Parts of the document were redacted with a black marker, but was done so sloppily that large parts of the redaction is still readable (all of it with a little manipulation in photoshop).

The Israel Police’s rules of engagement and escalation of force regulations, which were secret until Monday, were written and implemented last December, coinciding with increased violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The document dictates when a police officer can draw his or her weapon, when he or she can fire it, and in what manner.

The document confirms that police officers are authorized to use live fire against stone throwers and those directing fire-crackers toward officers. The regulations do not, of course, define specific population segments against whom the open-fire regulations are to be used, but according to Adalah attorney Mohammad Bassam, “it is clear that the regulations do not refer to just any stone throwers but that they were written specifically regarding Palestinian youths.”

I have written in the past about the restraint Israeli police and military forces exercise when faced with Jewish stone throwers, restraint that is almost non-existent when it comes to Palestinians engaged in the same activity.

The document published by Adalah on Monday includes regular rules of engagement, but also includes section that refer to very specific situations and cases. The following is a shortened version of the escalation of force regulations, regulations that outline what an officer should do before drawing an using their weapon:

  1. Carefully determine whether it is appropriate to activate the procedure.
  2. Shout in Hebrew, English or Arabic, “Police, stop or I will shoot”
  3. If the suspect does not stop, and after establishing that gunfire does not pose a danger to bystanders or property, fire a warning shot in the air.
  4. If the suspect still does not stop, aim and fire at the suspect’s legs. Do not under any circumstances fire toward the upper body.
  5. It is forbidden to shoot a suspect who does not pose a threat, it is forbidden to shoot someone whose hands are in the air, it is forbidden to shoot a person who has already been wounded by gunfire.
  6. If the suspect is armed, it is permissible to shoot him.
  7. If the officer is shooting out of self defense, it is permissible to skip the above outlined steps and shoot.
An Israeli police sharp-shooter positioned above Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, where a number of stabbing attacks took place in late 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
An Israeli police sharp-shooter positioned above Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, where a number of stabbing attacks took place in late 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Those are the the “normal” regulations. Attached to it is “Appendix A,” meant for situations involving the throwing of stones, Molotov cocktails and fire-crackers. Approved by the prime minister and attorney general in September 2015, shortly after the outbreak of the current wave of violence, details situations in which officers can ignore the normal escalation of force regulations and simple fire their weapons.

“An officer is permitted to open fire toward a person whom he clearly sees is throwing, or is about to throw a Molotov cocktail, or shoot, or is about to shoot fire crackers at a direct trajectory in order to prevent the danger,” the regulation reads.

The regulations also allow for the use of live fire with regards to stone throwing when a sling-shot is being used, or stones are being thrown toward moving cars, or from a rooftop. The regulation does not distinguish between various situations of stone throwing or at whom they are being thrown, for example, whether at civilian cars or armored and armed security forces.

“The new regulations allow officers to act in an unchecked and criminal manner,” said Bassam, who wrote the petition that ultimately led to the publication of the document. “The chances that actions such as stone throwing or shooting of fireworks would present a life-threatening danger are extremely slim and there is no doubt that it is possible to handle such situations using non-lethal means.”

“Nevertheless, the new regulations relate to such actions as if they were acts of war and grant legitimacy to light-trigger fingers [among officers], thus posing a fatal danger to the lives of young Palestinians,” Bassam added. “The new regulations contradict existing general guidelines according to which the use of a deadly weapon by officers is permitted only when there is substantiated fear of danger to the life of an officer or other individual, and only if there is no other means by which this danger may be prevented.”

As noted earlier, police failed at effectively redacting portions of the document. As a result, we are also able to learn about other situations in which officers are and aren’t permitted to discharge their weapons. For instance, an officer may not shoot at a fleeing vehicle if there is a hostage inside. Officers are also allowed to shoot, without fear of consequence, at somebody they fear is a suicide bomber.

Another section, which was withheld entirely from the information handed over to Adalah, which we know from the bad redaction job details police regulations for using 0.22 caliber “Ruger” rifles,” a weapon widely used by the IDF in the West Bank and which has killed a significant number of people despite its “less lethal” or “non-lethal” designation.

Adalah says it will continue with its court petition to uncover the remaining, unpublished regulations regarding the use of deadly force.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and blogger at Local Call, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

[Editor’s note: In accordance with our legal obligation, this article was sent to the IDF Censor for review prior to publication. We are not allowed to tell you if (and if, then where) it was indeed censored.]

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