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Israeli Supreme Court rules to keep public in the dark about police open-fire regulations

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A press release by the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) revealed on Sunday that Israel’s Supreme Court has overturned a lower court’s decision ordering police to publish regulations on open-fire policy.

The ruling, made in June, will be a major obstacle in bringing Israeli officers involved in shooting incidents to justice.

The Adalah Attorney who filed the petition seeking the publication of the open-fire regulations, Mohammad Bassam, told Mondoweiss that Adalah found the case of particular importance because he believes making Israeli police open fire-regulations available to the public would “limit the use of deadly gunfire on the part of officers.”

In late 2015, Adalah had petitioned the courts seeking to require the police to make public sensitive sections of its open-fire regulations after new regulations were rumored to have been put in place, following a renewed wave of violence in Israel and Palestine.

While a lower court had initially ruled partially in favor of Adalah’s petition, compelling police to publish the official regulations governing the use of fatal gunfire, an appeal filed by the Israeli police asked the court to impose a publication ban on the sensitive parts of the regulations Adalah was fighting to uncover.

In June 2016, about six months after new regulations were distributed to forces, police did inform Adalah of several instances in which police are allowed to open fire using live ammunition. According to the release, those included instances in which an individual who “clearly appears to be throwing or is about to throw a firebomb, or who is shooting or is about to shoot fireworks,” as well as someone taking part in “stone throwing using a slingshot” — which would mean an officer could use deadly force on the majority of Palestinians taking part in clashes, where youth use rocks against fully armed Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, many other regulations remain secret.

Using Israel’s justice system, Adalah hoped to shed light on specific regulations, including: officers’ directives for confronting demonstrations in East Jerusalem and the Negev regions (different than those used in the occupied West Bank); directives for opening fire on minors; and directives regarding use of the Ruger sniper rifle for crowd dispersal purposes.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, the regulations concerning use of fire in these instances, among many others, will be kept under wraps.

In an Adalah statement, Bassam said the Supreme Court’s decision is “intended to shield police directives from public criticism, thus hindering efforts to bring officers to justice for violations of the regulations.”

Bassam emphasised that the lower court’s initial ruling was made in favor of making open-fire regulations public under the assumption that “revealing the regulations would increase officers’ caution and adherence [to the regulations] prior to opening fire.”

“In a reality in which Israeli police policy promotes a light trigger finger – and in which officers shoot to kill in contravention of regulations – these regulations must be visible and clear,” Bassam said.

Impunity when Israeli forces break known regulations

Israeli police and army have very similar open-fire regulations, though there are differences — some of which are public, others of which are unknown due to the veil of secrecy surrounding the official regulations.

What we do know, is that even when Israeli forces, whether police or army, go against regulations made public, there is little to no oversight and those who are held accountable are granted extreme leniency.

“The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department whitewashes investigations of police killings of Arab citizens even when – as was the case in a series of recent killings – there are strong suspicions that officers violated open-fire regulations and employed unjustified deadly force,” Bassem told Mondoweiss.

Adalah was unable to speak on Israeli army protocol, as most of its work deals with police forces, but a well-known incident from last year involving an Israeli soldier blatantly acting outside of official regulations outlines what various human rights groups have coined a culture of impunity surrounding both the Israeli police and army.

According to Israel’s open-fire regulations for both army and police, it is against protocol to shoot someone who is injured, incapacitated and unable to be a threat to life, however in March 2016 Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier on-duty at the time, was was caught on video shooting in the head 21-year-old Abdel al-Fattah al-Sharif at close range as the young man lay motionless on the ground, 11 minutes after he had already been shot and injured.

Azaria claimed he was concerned al-Sharif was strapped with a bomb, which, under both police and army regulations would give the soldier the greenlight to use deadly force. However, the judge ruling over the case rejected the claim as false. Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter.

Politicians, community leaders and civilians across Israeli society called for a full pardon. Prosecution demanded a three to five year sentence.

While the maximum sentence for such a crime is 20 years, Azaria was given a sentence of 18 months in prison, which was then reduced to 14.

Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights NGO, told Mondoweiss at the time that the sentence brought to light “the policy of impunity and lack of accountability in a system of protracted Israeli military occupation.”

“The message this sends to other soldiers and police officers who extrajudicially execute Palestinians is that their actions will not be seriously accounted for and that impunity will persist,” Francis said.

According to Mati Milstein, a spokesperson for Adalah, for now the fight is over, as the Supreme Court ruling is final, leaving the organization with “no additional legal options available to pursue regarding the police open-fire regulations.”

Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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7 Responses

  1. Citizen on October 10, 2017, 1:45 pm

    US cops are jealous?

    PS, why do I suddenly have to repetitively log in to comment every day?

  2. JosephA on October 11, 2017, 12:45 am

    When the Supreme Court upholds racism and apartheid, can it be taken seriously?

  3. Misterioso on October 11, 2017, 10:43 am opinion/.premium-1.622711

    Haaretz  – Oct 26, 2014

    “The Palestinians’ Right and Duty to Resist” by Gideon Levy.

    “Faced with a reality in which Israel is strong and the United States is in its pocket, it is the duty of Palestinians to resist the occupation. The only question relates to the means.”

    “Imagine you’re the Palestinians. Perhaps residents of East Jerusalem. Forty-seven difficult years are behind you; a big, depressing darkness lies ahead. The Israeli tyranny that dooms your fate declares arrogantly that everything will stay like this forever. Your city will remain under occupation ‘for ever and ever.’ The defense minister, second in importance in the government that subjugates you, says a Palestinian state will never be established.

    “Imagine you’re Palestinian and your children are in danger. Two days ago, the occupation forces killed another child because ‘he lit a firebomb.’ The words ‘Death to Arabs’ were sprayed near your home. Everywhere you turn, a soldier or Border Police officer may shout at you. Every night, your home may be invaded brutally. You will never be treated like human beings. They’ll destroy, humiliate, intimidate, perhaps even arrest you, possibly without trial.

    “There are close to 500 administrative detainees, a record number in recent years. If one of your dear ones is arrested, you will have difficulty visiting him. If you succeed, you’ll get half an hour’s conversation through a glass window. If your dear one is an administrative detainee, you will never know when he’ll be released. But these are trivia you grew accustomed to long ago.

    “Maybe you’ve also grown accustomed to the land theft. At every moment a settler can invade your land, burn your plantation or torch your fields. He will not be brought to trial for this; the soldiers who are supposed to protect you will stand idly by. At any moment, a demolition order or random eviction order may appear. There’s nothing you can do.

    “Imagine you’re the Palestinians. You can’t leave Gaza and it’s not easy to leave the West Bank, either. The beach, less than an hour’s drive from your West Bank home, is beyond the mountains of darkness. An Israeli can go to Tierra del Fuego, between Argentina and Chile, much more easily than you can go to the beach at Ajami.

    “There are no dreams, no wishes. Your children have a slim chance of accomplishing anything in life, even if they go to university. All they can look forward to is a life of humiliation and unemployment.

    “There’s no chance that this situation is about to change anytime soon. Israel is strong, the United States is in its pocket, your leadership is weak (the Palestinian Authority) and isolated (Hamas), and the world is losing interest in your fate. What do you do?

    “There are two possibilities. The first is to accept, give in, give up. The second is to resist. Whom have we respected more in history? Those who passed their days under the occupation and collaborated with it, or those who struggled for their freedom?

    “Imagine you’re a Palestinian. You have every right to resist. In fact, it’s your civil duty. No argument there. The occupied people’s right to resist occupation is secured in natural justice, in the morals of history and in international law.

    “The only restrictions are on the means of resistance. The Palestinians have tried almost all of them, for better and worse – negotiations and terror; with a carrot and with a stick; with a stone and with bombs; in demonstrations and in suicide. All in vain. Are they to despair and give up? This has almost never happened in history, so they’ll continue. Sometimes they’ll use legitimate means, sometimes vile ones. It’s their right to resist.

    “Now they’re resisting in Jerusalem. They don’t want Israeli rule, or people who set live children on fire. They don’t want armed settlers who invade their apartments in the middle of the night, under the Israeli law’s protection, and evict them. They don’t want a municipality that grants its services according to national affiliation, or judges that sentence their children according to their origin. They also go nuts when the house of a Jewish terrorist is not demolished, while the house of a Palestinian will be torn down.

    “They don’t want Israel to continue tyrannizing them, so they resist. They hurl stones and firebombs. That’s what resistance looks like. Sometimes they act with heinous murderousness, but even that is not as bad as their occupier’s built-in violence.

    “It’s their right; it’s their duty.”


  4. shaun patrick on October 11, 2017, 10:46 pm

    When the police gave the court a copy of their regulations regarding their open fire policy I hear that the court’s response to the document was” its just a blank piece of paper” and the police lawyer responded ” that’s correct, the regulations are whatever we want them to be.”

  5. Elizabeth Block on October 12, 2017, 10:47 am

    And this is where Americans – and Canadians – send their police to be trained in “crowd control.”

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