Ramallah, May 24, 2016—Israeli internal investigators closed the case without charging the border policeman who shot 16-year-old Mohammad Sunukrut’s head with a sponge-tipped bullet on August 31, 2014, causing his death.
The East Jerusalem teen died on September 7, one week after an Israeli border policeman shot the right side of his head with a black sponge-tipped bullet. The bullet caused a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage. Although Israeli officials initially asserted that Sunukrut was shot on the leg, hitting his head afterward, an autopsy revealed that the sponge-tipped bullet struck his head and was the cause of death.
“Regulations regarding the use of sponge-tipped bullets are only meaningful if there are consequences for individuals who do not follow them,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at Defense for Children International - Palestine. “In this case, Mohammad Sunukrut bore the consequences, while his killer is permitted to go free.”
Sponge-tipped bullets are one of several crowd control weapons Israeli police and soldiers use to disperse Palestinian protests. Composed of an aluminum base, plastic body and foam tip, sponge-tipped bullets are “significantly less dangerous than rubber-coated bullets,” but still pose danger when aimed at the upper body, according to a 2013 report by human rights group B’Tselem. The report states that an Israeli police procedure restricts their use to the lower body, a distance of 2-50 meters, and circumstances where “less harsh means” of dispersal have first been attempted.
Since October 2015, DCIP has documented 17 upper-body injuries among Palestinian children across the Occupied Palestinian Territory due to Israeli forces’ improper use of crowd control weapons. In 2015, at least three children lost their eyesight and three others suffered serious injury after being struck by sponge-tipped bullets.
Hatem Abu Mayali, 13, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was struck on the head by a sponge-tipped bullet on April 2. Hatem told DCIP that he was walking to school with his brother when he saw clashes taking place in Ras Al-Amoud, where his school is located. Hatem tried to flee, but something hit the back of his head, knocking him down. He only realized he was injured when he saw a sponge-tipped bullet beside him.
Moments later, around six soldiers physically assaulted and dragged him to a nearby settlement before calling an ambulance, Hatem told DCIP. At Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in West Jerusalem, Hatem was admitted to the emergency room and received 23 stitches. Three days later, on April 5, Israeli forces detained Hatem for questioning. They released him later that day.
Since January 2014, DCIP has documented 59 child fatalities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by Israeli forces. Of these, DCIP knows of only one instance where a member of the Israeli forces, Ben Deri, was indicted for fatally shooting Nadeem Nawara with live ammunition in May of 2014.
According to 2014 statistics compiled by Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, only 3.5 percent of the 229 investigations of soldiers suspected of committing a crime against Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, resulted in indictments. The report further states: “More grave incidents, in which Palestinian civilians were either killed or wounded, hardly ever led to indictments.”
Israeli forces began using sponge-tipped bullets in Israel and East Jerusalem after the Orr Commission outlawed the use of rubber-coated metal bullets in Israel and East Jerusalem in 2003. However, the B'Tselem report noted that at the time of its publication, there were no known incidents where sponge-tipped bullets were used to break up Jewish-only protests.