Mustafa Tamimi, a 28-year-old Palestinian from the village of Nabi Saleh, moments before he was shot by the Israeli army and killed. "Circled in red are the barrel of the gun and the projectile that hit him," according to the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (Photo: Haim Scwarczenberg)
The Israel Defense Forces' spin doctors are at it again.
Haaretz reports on the Israeli military claiming that the killing of Mustafa Tamimi was an "exceptional" incident and that the soldier who fired the tear-gas canister at him "didn't see" Tamimi "because his visual field was obscured by the gas mask he was wearing."
Let's take apart these claims.
The killing of Tamimi was not "exceptional"--at least not in the way that the IDF wants you to believe. What was "exceptional" about the killing was that the entire incident was caught on camera and shown to the world, and that there is little dispute about the facts (unlike in the case of Jawaher Abu Rahmah). The fact that Mustafa Tamimi is dead, though, is not "exceptional." +972 Magazine's Noam Sheizaf has more on why:
Israel Defense Forces officials have told Haaretz that Tamimi’s death was “an exceptional incident.” Still, as we have reported here in the past, firing tear gas canisters at protesters from close range (in violation of army orders) is a common practice in the West Bank. A couple of years ago, Palestinian protester Bassam Abu-Rahmeh of Bil’in died after getting hit in the chest by a tear gas canister [video]. A year later, his sister, Jawahar, collapsed from the effect of a tear gas and later died in a Ramallah hospital.
I have seen tear gas canisters shot directly at protesters (including myself) in several demonstrations in Bil’in, in Hebron and in Nabi Saleh.
When you viciously fire tear-gas canisters like the IDF does, someone is bound to die. The IDF is lying when it implies that incidents like these don't happen often.
There are also glaring problems with the second claim that the Israeli soldier "didn't see" Tamimi because he was wearing a gas mask. Anne Paq, a French photographer based in Palestine, tweeted, "I am wearing gas mask all time to take pics. I can tell u, u can see if somebody is 5 meters in front of you! more lies from IOF."
And even if the IDF's claim were true, Haaretz notes:
The IDF's rules of engagement prohibit the firing of tear gas grenades from a rifle pointed directly at demonstrators or from a distance of less than 40 meters away. They also stipulate that the shooter must use the rifle sight and verify that no one is in the line of fire. Central Command and the Military Police are conducting separate investigations into the incident.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has more on the military violating its own rules of engagement:
For several years now, B'Tselem has been warning officials that security forces' fire tear-gas canisters directly at persons during demonstrations. The organization has demanded – both in meetings with senior military officials and by letter – that commanders clarify to soldiers serving in the field that firing tear-gas canisters directly at a person is unlawful. Tear gas is supposed to serve as a non-lethal crowd control measure, and using it as a substitute for live fire is forbidden. Therefore, firing tear-gas canisters directly at persons breaches the rules of engagement.
Such firing has resulted in serious injury and death. In April 2009, Bassem Abu-Rahmah, from the village of Bi’lin, was killed by a tear gas canister that struck him in the chest. B'Tselem knows of 13 cases in which persons were seriously injured in similar circumstances since the beginning of the second intifada. B'Tselem has also documented direct firing of canisters that did not result in injury, and has provided the Military Advocate General Corps and the commander of Judea and Samaria Brigade with video footage of such firing.
In response to B'Tselem’s demands, the then-legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, Col. Sharon Afek, replied in April 2009 that, “direct firing [of tear-gas canisters] at persons is prohibited” and that, “very soon, an explicit and broad directive will be issued that will prohibit the firing of a tear-gas canister directly at a person.” In July 2011, following further requests by B'Tselem, after the direct firing continued to occur at demonstrations, Major Uri Sagi, of the office of the legal advisor for Judea and Samaria, replied that, “following your letter, we have again clarified to the forces operating in Central Command the rules relating to firing of tear-gas canisters at persons, including the prohibition on directly firing a tear-gas canister at a person.” At meetings with B'Tselem, senior military officials claimed that such firing is forbidden and does not occur.
However, B'Tselem has since documented more cases in which security forces fired tear-gas canisters directly at persons. As far as B'Tselem knows, no soldier has been prosecuted for such firing. In the abovementioned case of Abu-Rahmah, which occurred in April 2009, a Military Police investigation was opened only in July 2010, and only after B'Tselem and Attorney Micha’el Sfard threatened to petition the High Court of Justice if an investigation were not initiated.
B'Tselem wrote to the office of the military advocate for operational matters to verify that an MPIU investigation had been opened in the case of a-Tamimi, in accordance with the new policy that the MAG Corps declared before the High Court of Justice. B'Tselem demanded that the investigation examine not only the conduct of the soldier who fired the canister, but also the responsibility of the command echelon, including the orders given to the soldier.
B'Tselem will provide all the material in its possession and will follow the case to make sure the investigation is effective and professional.