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Ha'aretz, December 13, 1998

As euphemisms go,'rubber bullets' is a killer

By Gideon Levy

Last Monday I witnessed yet another violent demonstration in the territories. Plot, scenery and choreography combined to produce the spectacle that has become a fixed ritual: enraged youth throwing stones at soldiers in front of the IDF roadblock at Rachel's tomb. Soldiers and stone-throwers stood a healthy distance apart from one another, and most of the stones landed somewhere between the two. They endangered no one. The soldiers, secure behind meter-high concrete blocks, fired off salvo after salvo of rubber bullets. Four Palestinians were wounded.At the very same time, my colleague Ada Ushpiz was standing by a roadblock in El Bireh. In the report she filed in Ha'aretz, Ushpiz wrote: "It was hard to tell what happened first - the waves of young people throwing rocks at the soldiers, or the rubber bullets beating down." Ushpiz herself was hit by a rubber bullet. Thirty Palestinians were hit by rubber that day. The following day, a youth named Jihad Iyad was killed, apparently from a "live" round. And another 270 Palestinians were injured, almost all of them from rubber bullets. Nasser Arikat, a student at Bir Zeit University, was injured, and died two days later. He too had been shot with a rubber bullet.

According to data supplied by B'Tselem, from the start of the Intifada until the end of last month, at least 58 Palestinians were killed by rubber bullets, including 28 children below the age of 17, 13 of whom were not yet 13. Awad Hindash, the son of refugees from Jelazoun who planned to start a new life with his fiancee in America; 8-year-old Ali Juwarish, who became posthumously famous when his father donated his organs to Israelis; or Samar Karameh, the 13-year-old from Hebron who was on his way to a private English lesson - all of them were killed by rubber bullets. Rubber kills.

How astonishing it is to discover how a mass act of slaughter can become a part of the routine - no one even opens their mouth. A lethal device that should be employed only in serious cases when the lives of soldiers are endangered, has in recent years become a standard tool for dispersing demonstrations. Tear gas is barely used anymore, and who can even remember the gravel-shooting machine, an invention that seemed particularly diabolical in its time? Nor do we ever see water hoses, used by darker regimes than ours to break up violent demonstrations. But now, rubber is going like gangbusters.

Yet rubber is not just rubber. The "rubber" bullet is a nice euphemism for a very hard object that the jargon of the Israeli occupation rushed to sanitize - exactly like other occupation terminology, like "civil administration," "coordination and liaison authority," and "prohibited from leaving." It is a metal bullet - a bullet like all other bullets, as lethal as every other lethal weapon. The only difference is that it is covered with a layer of rubber that makes it less hard than a live round. Indeed, it is less deadly from a range of 30 meters or more. And the IDF has clear standing orders on when and from what range it may be used - but who's paying attention?

To date, only three of all the soldiers who killed with rubber have been put on trial. One was exonerated, later stood before a disciplinary tribunal, and eventually received a note of censure in his personal file. That's all. All the other acts of manslaughter - some of which claimed the lives of small children whom it is hard to believe genuinely endangered armed soldiers' lives - were not deemed improper by the IDF. The children were killed "in accordance with regulations," as a senior military source was quoted in Ha'aretz following the killing of Ali Juwarish.

And this is the real meaning of "the regulations": The lives of Palestinians in the territories are frighteningly cheap, and the finger on the trigger is unbearably light of touch. Stones thrown at armed soldiers from a far distance? Deadly fire. Burning tires? Deadly fire.

Last Monday near Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem, as in many other instances, it was hard to understand why tear gas grenades couldn't have sufficed: they make a realistic explosive sound, their gas wafts into the eyes and lungs and paralyzes all stone throwers for a good long while. Water hoses don't do a bad job of pushing back waves of rioters, either. Water and gas have only one noticeable downside: They are not liable to kill.

TThe next few days in the territories are sure to be turbulent. There are many justified reasons for Palestinians' frustration and despair, reasons that you need a healthy dose of indifference to fail to understand. Even in their despair, one must admit and maybe even rejoice, non-terrorist Palestinians do not have at their disposal a great selection of means of protest that might provide an alternative to stones and tires.

What do Israelis expect a Palestinian to do, when his relative is rotting away in jail, his land is being steadily expropriated before his eyes, his house may be about to be demolished, and his life is subject to a never-ending closure order? To stand with a polite little sign in front of the roadblocks and the bulldozers? To fire off letters to the editor? The tire and the stone have become practically unavoidable means of protest. The Israeli response must be on a par with their level of danger: we must use a tool for dispersing demonstrations, not a tool for mass slaughter


(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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