Sticks and Stones and “Rubber” Bullets
Israeli troops clashed with hundreds of Palestinian stone throwers in the West Bank city of Nablus on Wednesday, firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel pellets to push back the crowds.How bad are these “rubber” bullets? According to John Mahoney from Americans for Middle East Understanding . . .
Two Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, Palestinian witnesses said.
Bad enough that the U.S. Department of State has criticized the Israeli government for their use and misuse. The 1998 Report on Human Rights Practices states:
Israeli soldiers and police sometimes used live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets, which can be lethal, in situations other than when their lives were in danger and sometimes shot suspects in the upper body and head. During the year, Israeli soldiers shot in the head and killed, with rubber-coated metal bullets, three Palestinians under the age of 18.
Because they are the targets, Palestinian youngsters have become authorities of sort on rubber-coated steel bullets. They collect them much like American kids collect baseball cards. And they’ve learned how to discern what’s coming at them. They need only to check the type of canister on the end of the high-velocity rifles pointed at them to know which bullets are being used. If the canister is about 10 inches long, an inch wide, and looks like a very long silencer, the gun is shooting plastic-coated steel balls that are 95% by weight metal, 1.8 cm in diameter, and surrounded by a one mm coating of plastic. Palestinians know they can cause extensive damage such as broken bones, tissue and organ damage, and death. Because of the large number of brain injuries caused by this type of bullet, some doctors have devised a new surgical tool, a long slender magnet, used to pull the bullet out through the entry pathway.
If, however, the canister is about the size of a 12-ounce can of soda, the gun is shooting rubber-coated steel bullets which, being 74% by weight metal, are more accurately called, according to the Reuters news agency, “rubber coated metal bullets with the rubber slashed to release the metal in the body of the victim.” These bullets can cause severe bruises, tissue and organ damage, eye loss, broken bones, and death.6 The soda can at the end of an Israeli rifle is, for Palestinians, far from the pause that refreshes.
In November 2000, Physicians for Human Rights issued a report of its independent inquiry into the most recent killings of Palestinians. An examination of hundreds of Palestinian casualties found that scores had been killed or badly injured by rubber-coated steel bullets fired, “excessively and inappropriately,” contrary to army rules, at close range. The soldiers, the report concluded, “appeared to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense.”
None of which would come as news to Palestinians. There is, however, one weapon in Israel’s anti-civilian arsenal that is new. According to a London Times report of 17 October 2000, stone-throwing youths in Ramallah watched, stunned, as men and boys at the barricades collapsed with small bullet holes in their chests, testicles, arms and hips. Tamir Barghouti, nephew of Marwan Barghouti, leader of the West Bank intifada, was one such casualty.
Palestinians are used to the rubber-coated steel bullets in their daily ritual of ducking and diving and hurling stones. But bullets that come out of nowhere terrify them. There are no bangs, no smoking guns. Victims just collapse and bleed, sometimes unnoticed. “I didn’t hear a thing. I didn’t feel much. I just fell over,” recalled Tahir Afaneh, 18, speaking from a bed in Ramallah’s central hospital, where he was being treated for a bullet lodged in his pelvis. Hosni Atari, the doctor who was treating him, said he had never seen the results of the new Israeli weapon before. Hollow-nosed bullets open up like umbrellas on impact, spin about, then chew up internal organs; seldom do they leave an exit wound. That day alone Dr. Atari had treated seven patients hit by the “new” weapon.
It is, in fact, an old weapon. Called dumdum bullets by the British, after the munitions factory at Dumdum, India, where they were first manufactured in the late 19th century, they are designed to inflict maximum damage. So vicious are they, the 1899 Hague Conference adopted the Hague Declaration IV (3) by which the parties agreed to “abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions.”
Israel denies using dumdum bullets. Dr. Hosni Atari and Tahir Afaneh know otherwise.