Ramallah, September 29, 2015—Misuse of sponge-tipped plastic bullets by Israeli border police during clashes with Palestinian youth resulted in serious injuries to three children from East Jerusalem’s Issawiya neighborhood in September. None of the children injured participated in the confrontations.
On September 19, Mohammad Issa, 15, suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage when a black, sponge-tipped bullet hit him in the head. His mother told Defense for Children International - Palestine that they were on their way to a pharmacy in Issawiya at the time. Mohammad spent nine days in hospital and doctors said he would require physiotherapy to regain lost movement in his left arm from the brain injury.
Aseel Muheisen, 12, told DCIP that on September 15, a black, sponge-tipped bullet struck her as she stood observing clashes from her family-owned small amusement park that overlooks the Issawiya neighborhood. Doctors said Aseel had a broken right collarbone and pulmonary contusions, which required her to stay five days in hospital for treatment.
On September 8, Yousef Dari, 10, told DCIP that he found himself caught in the middle of confrontations between masked Palestinian youth and Israeli border police officers when he left the bakery near his home in Issawiya. Israeli border police officers shot him with a black, sponge-tipped bullet in the back as he ran home. Yousef suffered a lacerated spleen that kept him in hospital for a week and confined him to bed rest for at least a month.
“Sponge rounds, like all non-lethal crowd control weapons, can seriously injure, and even kill, Palestinian children when fired above the waist at unsafe distances,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. “These cases show a wanton disregard by Israeli forces of the guidelines for using such weapons. Yet the failure of Israeli authorities to properly investigate and hold perpetrators accountable provides Israeli forces with tacit approval to inflict maximum harm.”
Israeli police introduced the black, sponge-tipped plastic bullets, or Model 4557, in July 2014, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), an Israeli human rights group. These new rounds, intended as a form or non-lethal crowd control, replaced a lighter, less harmful blue model.
In March, ACRI sent a letter to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, demanding that Israel’s police “immediately cease using the black sponge bullets and conduct an extensive investigation.” In response, ACRI received the guidelines for firing these plastic bullets, which prohibits their use on children and requires police officers to fire them at the lower part of the body.
Nevertheless, over the past 12 months, one child died and at least three others sustained serious injuries in Jerusalem from plastic bullets, according to DCIP research and media reports.
In a sworn testimony given to DCIP, Zakaria Golani, 13, said that a sponge-tipped round struck him in the left eye while on his way home from school in East Jerusalem’s Shufat refugee camp on March 31. Some construction work on Israel’s controversial separation barrier that cuts off the refugee camp from the rest of Jerusalem was taking place at the time. Israeli border police officers were standing guard on several rooftops and firing at anyone approaching the area. Despite two surgeries, Zakaria permanently lost vision in his eye.
A sponge-tipped round struck Mohammad, 5, from the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem, on his way home as he got off the school bus, at around midday on December 24, 2014. His sister, who spoke to DCIP in a sworn testimony, stated that a soldier fired toward them despite the fact that no clashes were taking place at the time. Mohammad’s father took him to hospital where he underwent an operation that replaced the fractured bones of his eye socket with platinum.
Saleh, 11, also from Issawiya, suffered a similar injury when an Israeli soldier fired a black, sponge-tipped round at him on November 13, 2014. Saleh was returning from running an errand for his mother when he found himself caught between youth clashing with Israeli police. According to his sworn testimony, he was in a coma for four days, and awoke to find his right eye removed and 85 percent of his left eye damaged. Saleh also sustained fractures to his skull and nose.
These injuries follow the death of Mohammad Sunukrut, 16, in September 2014. Mohammad died from a brain hemorrhage a week after reportedly sustaining a shot to the head with one of the these rounds during demonstrations in East Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood.
Last year, DCIP called on Israeli authorities to end the use of supposedly non-lethal weapons, which Israeli forces excessively and improperly use, with almost complete impunity. The incorrect use of such weapons can have devastating and sometimes fatal consequences for children.
An estimated 1,522 Palestinian children sustained injuries by weapons other than live ammunition between January 2011 and December 2013, according to data collected by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A January 2013 report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, found that 12 children died from rubber-coated metal bullets between 2000 and 2012.