March 4, 2013
The Ruger 10/22 sniper rifle is back in use in the West Bank.
The weapon has been outlawed under Israeli law since 2001. It was deemed "more lethal than previously thought" by the Israeli occupation Judge Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein after it killed several children in Gaza during the second Intifada.
The US-made rifle is modified by the Israeli military, with the standard issue now having a large suppressor or 'silencer’, a bi-pod and a scope attached.
The Israeli army released a statement stating that the Ruger rifle and .22 calibre bullets were used in Aida refugee camp on Monday, authorized by a high-ranking officer at the scene. Photographic evidence shows the Ruger rifle in use at the clashes in Hebron in recent weeks. Testimonies from children in Aida camp and Beit Jala hospital in Bethlehem also indicate its use in the shooting of the two boys Odai Sarhan and Mohammad al-Kirdi.
Mohammad al-Azza, present at the scene, describes the incident of al-Kirdi's shooting.
"When they throw stones, the shabab (youths) go closer, up towards the guard tower. He [al-Kirdi] was just standing here. He suddenly fell down and started crying. He was feeling his chest and legs and said 'here, and here, the bullet is here’, he didn’t know where it had gone. So there was no sound, noone heard a sound, but we just saw him fall."
Mohammad al-Azza was certain it was the Ruger rifle. Other sources, most notably Dr. Ronza Salem who operated on al-Kirdi, stated that it was a rubber-coated steel bullet, not a .22 calibre round that the Ruger uses. To date, the Israeli army have not commented on the specifics of either of the two shootings.
The reintroduction of the rifle marks a change in ideology by the Israeli army's Central Command.
Its use has been historically linked to escalations in demonstrations and protests in the West Bank, despite its reclassification as lethal. It also comes at a time when Israel has been receiving 'bad press’ and international condemnation in relation to its settlement policy. The use of the weapon, alongside the increasing use of live ammunition during protests, as a means to entice Palestinian demonstrators into violence should not be discarded as a reason behind its renewed usage.
The Ruger rifle in detail
Its introduction was intended to provide the Israeli army with a crowd-control weapon than was less lethal than the M-16, but with more 'stopping power’ than rubber-coated steel bullets (which, incidentally, have killed many Palestinians). The weapon fires a stubby metal bullet a quarter of an inch in diameter (0.22 calibre), with a typical velocity of around 405 meters a second. The M-16, by contrast fires a similar diameter round, but over twice as long, with a velocity of 990 meters a second.
Classification of the Ruger has sparked debate among military circles of the Israeli army.
It began as a 'non-lethal crowd control’ weapon, used to "take out key protestors by shooting them in the legs."
However, following the ruling that it should be banned from use in crowd control situations due to its newly perceived lethality, the use of the Ruger was sharply reduced.
Historically, heads of the Israeli army’s Southern Command have favored the nonlethal definition, preferring to use the weapon when dealing with Palestinians in Gaza. The Israeli army Central Command, responsible for the West Bank, has been more critical of its use, citing the 'problem’ of causing unjustified Palestinian casualties when used indiscriminately. It was reclassified as an acceptable 'last resort’ when soldiers’ lives were in danger.
Despite this it was used in 2008-09 when Palestinian activists stepped up demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall. Around that time B’Tselem documented at least six Palestinians killed by the rifle, with dozens more seriously injured. The fact that the weapon has not been taken out of circulation further undermines the Judge Advocate General’s statement.
Based on this evidence, it seems the classification system deployed by the Israeli army is undermined by ad hoc decisions by officers on the ground at protests. This further amplifies the culture of impunity at hand in Israel, with soldiers continuously breaking Israeli laws and facing little to no punishment afterwards. This lack of accountability partially results from the Judge Advocate General's policy of not opening military investigations in cases in which Palestinians are killed or wounded.
Yet the entire debate concerning whether it should be classified under Israeli military law as a live or nonlethal weapon is irrelevant even with little examination.
The Ruger rifle fires a metal bullet with a 'practical’ range of 140 meters. Yet even after 400 meters, the bullet is still travelling at 150 m/s, enough to kill. Rubber-coated steel bullets, considered less lethal in comparison, have killed people in the past.
In a statement released in 2009, Major Gortler states that the rules applying to 0.22 bullets are "comparable, in general, to the Open-Fire Regulations applying to 'ordinary' live ammunition… The IDF does not consider the Ruger rifle a means to disperse demonstrators or persons engaged in public disturbances, and the weapon is not a substitute for means used to deal with public disturbances (such as stun grenades, rubber bullets, and so forth)."
Its lethality also comes from the context in which it is used.
Soldiers will lie prone or rest on a wall to shoot the weapon, hidden from view and completely protected. The installation of a scope and suppresser has the aim of hitting people who do not stand as a threat to the shooter. In affect, Israeli soldiers can hit 'targets’ fully aware of their immunity from prosecution, from a safe distance and without a sound that can verify their position.
The use of the weapon is an all-round ploy to terrorize and kill Palestinian demonstrators, shoot without fear of prosecution, and yet still claim to be using a 'less-lethal form of crowd-control’ when under scrutiny by the international community.