The Israeli government is reportedly planning to grant police officers the authority to use live ammunition against Israeli citizens who participate in protests that block roads or entrances to towns. According to public broadcaster Kan, police will only need approval from a senior officer before resorting to lethal force. This new regulation, expected to be introduced as soon as Sunday, will require fast-tracked legislative approval from Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.
The proposal to relax the rules on live-fire came from right-wing National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, even before the surprise attack by Hamas on Israel in early October, which resulted in the deaths of 1,400 people at the hands of Palestinian militants. Ben Gvir argued that it is crucial to make it easier for police officers to shoot individuals who pose a threat to them. He believes that such a change in regulations would enhance officer protection and enable them to fulfill their duties more effectively.
Kan previously reported that both the police leadership and National Security Ministry expressed concerns regarding possible road blockades by Israeli citizens of Arab origin in the event of a military escalation with the Palestinians or with Lebanese armed group Hezbollah. Government data shows that Arabs constitute 21% of Israel’s 9.8 million population.
Discussions surrounding this issue were prompted by the outbreaks of violence in cities with mixed Arab-Jewish populations during Israel’s 11-day war with Gaza in May 2021. Currently, Israeli police heavily rely on non-lethal means to disperse riots and can only employ live rounds when they perceive a threat to their lives.
It is worth noting that the current rules were implemented after large-scale protests and inter-communal violence in Israel back in October 2000. During that period, 12 Arab Israelis and one Palestinian were killed, and an Israeli Jew lost his life when his car was attacked by Arab rioters. In response to the unrest, a commission investigated the police’s handling of the situation and concluded that the use of live ammunition against the demonstrators had been inappropriate.
The proposed change in regulations raises concerns about the potential misuse of power by the police and the impact it could have on the right to peaceful protest. Critics argue that granting police officers greater permission to use lethal force may escalate tensions and lead to more violent encounters between law enforcement and citizens.
As the legislation progresses, it is expected that civil rights activists and organizations will closely monitor the situation and evaluate any potential consequences that may arise from these changes. The decision to allow police to use live ammunition will undoubtedly spark debates about the balance between effective law enforcement and safeguarding citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.