January 5, 2011 : Deadly experiments: Israel's murderous testing ground for 'less-lethal' weapons

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Jawaher Abu RahmaOn New Year's Eve 2010, whilst much of the world was celebrating, over 1,000 people demonstrated in the Palestinian village of Bil'in against Israel's encroachment on the village's land. Israeli tear gas and rubber bullets rained down on the protesters and Jawaher Abu Rahma, who was watching the demonstration from the sidelines, choked to death as the allegedly non-lethal gas enveloped the village.

A report from Bil'in residents said that Israeli soldiers fired tear gas “from the moment protesters entered their sight.” [1] “It is obvious that, for the army, the mere presence of unarmed demonstrators is reason enough to use chemical weapons against them,” it added.

Bil'in, a symbol of popular resistance

Since 2005, the village of Bil'in has been resisting Israel's apartheid wall and settlements encroaching on the village's land. In February 2010, the community's steadfast resistance finally won an announcement by the Israeli military that the wall's route around the village would be altered. [2]

The village has become a symbol of a new popular resistance to the Israeli occupation and has attracted international solidarity from all over the world. Bil'in's fight has become a foundation of the joint struggle by Israeli and Palestinian activists against the occupation and has spurred the birth of the 'popular committees' movement against the illegal wall and settlements. Statements from Bil'in have often provided a compass for the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid.

Tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a weekly demonstration in Bil'inBil'in's successes, however, have come at a price, which is baldly illustrated in the story of the Abu Rahma family. In 2008, Ashraf Abu Rahma was badly injured after he was shot at close range while detained by an Israeli soldier. [3] In April 2009, his brother, Bassem, was shot in the chest by a tear gas canister at close range and died from his wounds. [4] Abdallah and Adeeb Abu Rahma have both served hundreds of days in prison for their involvement in the popular struggle. [5] Despite all this, their sister, Jawaher, kept returning to the demonstrations week after week for four years, until she collapsed from tear gas inhalation on 31 December, 2010, and died in a Ramallah hospital, aged 36.

In a blog published a day after her death, Bil'in residents reasserted that action for change is necessary and that the BDS strategy is “a means for activists to unite under one manifesto.” Celebrating their past victories in spite of the tragedy, they added: “Corporations are divesting from Israel, trade unions are passing motions to boycott settlement goods, universities are refusing to collaborate with their Israeli counterparts.” [6]

Israeli activists have responded to a call-out by the Bil'in residents by blocking a main street in Tel Aviv and holding a procession to the US ambassador's house to 'return' tear gas canisters fired at demonstrators in Bil'in. [7] 12 protesters were arrested for charges including 'conspiring to possess weapons', despite the fact that all they were carrying was the spent canisters.

Calls have also been made to target the manufacturers of the tear gas used by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians, [8] in particular Combined Systems Incorporated (CSI) and Defense Technology, which is owned by BAE Systems.

Lethal 'non-lethal' weapons

“The Israeli government and its army have been, for years now, using the West Bank and Gaza as their testing ground. The Palestinians are their guinea pigs. The Israeli army uses tear gas that would probably be banned in any other country in the world. They shoot tear gas, directly at protesters; once again, an illegal act. But a very rewarding one: Israel’s security industry is booming. It’s never been this good. Countries all over the world are buying Israel’s expertise in security, crowd control and weaponry every day. Israeli soldiers are training other countries commandos all over the planet.” [9]

Bil'in, and villages across Palestine, have become a testing ground for the Israeli security industry, and for international companies looking for an arena to try out their wares. While unmanned bulldozers, aircraft and boats patrol and bombard the besieged Gaza Strip and the latest in CCTV, fingerprint and body scan equipment proliferate at the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints across the West Bank, Bil'in and other villages engaged in the popular struggle are subjected to countless experiments in so-called 'non lethal' or 'less lethal' weapons technology.

Demonstrator injured by tear gas canister in Nabi Saleh, December 2010Bil'in's non-violent demonstrations have been attacked with bullets, plastic coated steel bullets, rubber bullets, baton rounds, water cannons firing corrosive chemicals, coloured dye and foul-smelling water that makes one vomit and many other chemical and noise weapons. Many of these weapons will soon be found on the international market, after being tried and tested on the people of Palestine, whose deaths and suffering are valued less than those of the people of London or Washington.

The Israeli military routinely uses CS gas against Palestinians as a means of crowd dispersal. [10] Evidence suggests that the strength of gas used at demonstrations varies and that gas with a higher propensity to incapacitate has been used, particularly at protests during 2010.

Although this force is branded 'non-lethal', 21 people have been killed by Israeli forces during the popular struggle since 2005. In September 2010, 18-month-old Mohammed Abu-Sarah, from Issawiya, died after tear gas fired by the Israeli police in a residential area during a demonstration seeped into his family's living room. [11] In April 2009, Jawaher Abu Rahma's brother, Bassem, was shot in the chest by a tear gas canister at close range and died from his wounds. [12]


Companies supplying tear gas equipment to Israel include:

Combined Tactical Systems

(www.combinedsystems.com , www.less-lethal.com)

Combined Tactical Systems (CSI) gas shellCombined Tactical Systems Inc. (CSI) is a Jamestown, USA-based company that “supports military forces and law enforcement agencies around the world.” Shells bearing CSI markings were photographed being used by Israeli police in East Jerusalem during March 2010 to enforce a curfew on the Old City. A Combined Systems Model 4431 CS Powder Barricade Penetrating Projectile high-velocity shell killed Bassem Abu Rahma in April 2009. [13] The primary purpose of these canisters is to penetrate barriers, with a secondary function of releasing a chemical gas - they clearly should not be used for crowd dispersal. [14]

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has written an open letter to CSI, demanding that the company stops providing equipment that “Israel misuses to kill and maim unarmed protesters.” [15] CSI's customers include the Joint Non Lethal Weapons Directorate, the US State Department, General Dynamics, Israeli Military Industries, Rafael Aramament Development Authority (Israel) and L3 Communications. [16]

American River Logistics

(www.americanriverintl.com , www.worldest.com)

ARL is a “global logistics company” offering “hands on” air, ocean and rail line services. ARL also deal with imports and exports and customs brokerage. [17] Boxes marked American River Logistics were photographed being carried by police in Jerusalem in March 2010 alongside containers of tear gas.

ALS (www.alstechnologies.com)

ALS Technologies, based in Arkansas, US, specialises in the same 'less-lethal' technology marketed by CSI. [18]

Penn Arms

Penn Arms is a sister company to CSI. CSI's 'Penn Arms division' manufactures hand-held launchers. [19]

Defense Technologies


Defense Technologies containerDefense Technologies is a Casper, USA-based company owned by BAE Systems through Armor Holdings, which was acquired by BAE in 2007. [20] Defense Technologies' Tear Gas Candles were photographed being used by police in East Jerusalem in March 2010. Defense Technologies lists BAE as its sales representative. [21] Armor Holdings' registered office is in Carlton Gardens, London.

BAE Systems is the UK's biggest arms company and the world's third-largest defence company, with annual sales exceeding £15.7 billion. [22] BAE has also supplied Israel with 'Heads Up' Display Units for F16s and electronic warfare systems. [23] For the company's UK locations, see www.baesystems.com/WorldwideLocations/UnitedKingdom/Locations/.

The weapons

During the course of 2009-10, discarded tear gas shells littered the village of Bil'in and the surrounding fields. The gas canisters seen were of the 'tear ball' type marketed by Combined Tactical Systems in the US.

CSI Multi launcherIn the past two years, vehicle-mounted tear gas launchers have been used at anti-wall demonstrations throughout Palestine. During March 2010, the village of Nabi Saleh was invaded by Israeli military vehicles firing multiple tear gas rounds from a vehicle. The gas reached every corner of the village, filling people's houses. Similar scenes have been common in Bil'in, where the army have repeatedly entered the village and deliberately shot tear gas into the residential area.

The vehicle-mounted launchers used by the Israeli army are suspiciously similar to the CSI Venom Non-Lethal Tube Launched Munitions System. The Venom is currently in use by the US marines in Iraq. [24]

Israeli troops have also been seen to use rapid fire hand launchers at demonstrations in Nabi Saleh and elsewhere. A video posted on the web by witnesses shows these hand launchers close to a built-up area.[25] Again, the hand launchers used are remarkably similar to CSI's multi-launchers. [26] Penn Arms launchers are capable of launching six rounds in quick succession [27] and are in use by the US police. [28]

There is a symbiotic relationship between the Israeli and international security industries. The people of Palestine provide a constant source of test subjects for weapons that are later rolled out by states against people worldwide. The corporations complicit in Israel's continued repression have a global reach. The resistance can be global too.


[1] Bil'in, A Village of Palestine, From Bil'in to Tel Aviv, outrage at killing of Jawaher Abu Rahma, 4 January 2011, www.bilin-village.org/english/articles/press-and-independent-media/From-Bilin-to-Tel-Aviv-outrage-at-killing-of-Jawaher-Abu-Rahmah, accessed 04/01/2011.

[2] Corporate Watch, Israeli West Bank Wall to be re-routed following years of protest, 25 February 2010, http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/israeli-west-bank-wall-to-be-re-routed-following-years-of-protest/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[3] A video of the incident is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ly2I5AzfnrY.

[4] A video of the incident is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuPJHK6rQ4Q.

[5] Corporate Watch, Wave of repression shows that Israel is beginning to take our movement seriously, 2 March 2010, http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/wave-of-repression-shows-that-israel-is-beginning-to-take-our-movement-seriously/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[6] Bil'in, A Village of Palestine, Happy New Year from the Israeli Occupation Forces: The Story of the Abu Rahme Family, 2 January 2011, www.bilin-village.org/english/articles/different-look/Happy-New-Year-from-the-Israeli-Occupation-Forces-The-Story-of-the-Abu-Rahme-Family, accessed 04/01/2011.

[7] Lisa Goldman, Hundreds rally in Tel Aviv to protest Bil'in woman's death, +972, 1 January 2011, http://972mag.com/hundreds-rally-in-tel-aviv-to-protest-bilin-protesters-death/comment-page-1/, accessed 04/01/2011; Joseph Dana, From Bilin to Tel Aviv, outrage at killing of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, The Electronic Intifada, 3 January 2011, http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article11710.shtml, accessed 04/01/2011.

[8] Global Intifada, Resist the ‘Non Lethal’ Weapons industry - Call to target BAE and CSI, Indymedia UK, 4 January 2011, www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2011/01/471554.html, accessed 04/01/2011.

[9] Bil'in, A Village of Palestine, Happy New Year from the Occupation Forces, ibid.

[10] Tania Kepler, Is Israel using lethal tear gas to disperse demonstrations?, The Alternative Information Centre, 3 January 2011, www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/topics/news/3150-is-israel-using-lethal-tear-gas-to-disperse-demonstrations, accessed 04/01/2011.

[11] Lisa Goldman, NGO demands that police investigate toddler’s death from tear gas, +972, 26 September 2010, http://972mag.com/ngo-demands-that-police-investigate-toddlers-death-from-tear-gas/, accessed 04/01/2011; Tania Kepler, Palestinian infant dies from tear gas inhalation in East Jerusalem, The Alternative Information Centre, 26 September 2010, www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/topics/jerusalem/2879-palestinian-infant-dies-from-tear-gas-inhalation-in-east-jerusalem, accessed 04/01/2011.

[12] Bassem – The murder of a Bil’in protester, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuPJHK6rQ4Q, accessed 04/01/2011.

[13] Jesse Rosenfeld and Joseph Dana, Tears and gas: A call to mobilise, Al-Jazeera, 03 January 2011, http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/01/201113870502192.html, accessed 04/01/2011; Combined Systems, 40mm Barricade Penetrators, www.combinedsystems.com/csi_mil/40mm--barricade.aspx, accessed 04/01/2011.

[14] B'Tselem, Summary of Findings on the April 17, 2009 Death of Bassem Ibrahim Abu Rahma, Bil’in, 23 April 2010, www.btselem.org/Download/abu_rahmeh/Abu_Rahma_report_1.pdf, accessed 04/01/2011.

[15] International Solidarity Movement, Combined Systems Inc., stop providing equipment that Israel misuses to kill and maim unarmed protesters, 4January 2011, http://palsolidarity.org/2011/01/16340/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[16] John Gassler Jr, Combined Systems: Non-Lethal Specialists in a Lethal World, Special Operations Report, Winter 2009, www.combinedsystems.com/Pdfs/SOR_CSi_Spring09.pdf, accessed 04/01/2011.

[17] American River Brokerage Services, About us, www.americanriverintl.com/Brokerage/Aboutusbr.htm, accessed 04/01/2011.

[18] ALS, Products – Less Lethal, www.alstechnologies.com/index.php?page=products, accessed 04/01/2011.

[19] Combined Systems, Penn Arms Launchers, http://combinedsystems.com/pennarms/, accessed 04/01/2011. See also Don Munson, Penn Arms GL-1 Compact Launcher, Tactical Response, May/June 2009, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7745/is_200905/ai_n32424362/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[20] BAE Systems, BAE Systems Completes Acquisition of Armor Holdings Inc., 31 July 2007, http://production.investis.com/armorholdings/media/press/2007/2007-07-31, accessed 04/01/2011.

[21] Armor Holdings, Reps, www.armorholdings.com/reps/index_equip.asp, accessed 04/01/2011. See also http://production.investis.com/armorholdings/aboutus/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[22] BAE Systems, About BAE Systems Inc., http://production.investis.com/armorholdings/aboutus/aboutbae/, accessed 04/01/2011.

[23] Corporate Watch, Profiting from the Occupation, February 2009, www.corporatewatch.org.uk/download.php?id=90, pp.5-6, accessed 04/01/2011.

[24] Federal Business Opportunities, 10--Venom - Tube-Launched/Non-Lethal Weapon System, https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&tab=core&id=0b02acbd1a6eef2bffa0f11a311d2f10&_cview=1, accessed 04/01/2011.

[25] www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFnaTMLrXSU, accessed 03/01/2011.

[26] For example, see John Gassler Jr, Combined Systems, ibid.

[27] Penn Arms, 40mm Multi-Launcher 5" Cylinder, Pump-Action Advance, http://combinedsystems.com/pennarms/40mm-Multi5-pump.aspx, accessed 04/01/2011.

[28] Bakersfield Police Department, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakersfield_Police_Department, accessed 04/01/2011.

[29] High-resolution photos are available at http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/1080/

- Tear gas canisters fired during weekly demonstrations in Bil'in - photos courtesy of Bil'in Popular Committee



- Protesters in Bil'in return spent tear gas canisters to the Israeli military during a weekly demonstration



- Jawaher Abu Rahma - Photo by Oren Ziv, Active Stills


- Bassem Abu Rahma - Photo from Active Stills


- Combined Tactical Systems (CSI) tear gas canister


- American River Logistics (ARL) boxes


- Defense Technologies container


- CSI's Venom 'Non Lethal' Tube Launched Munitions System


- CSI Multi launcher


- CSI munitions container discarded after demonstration


- Demonstrator injured by tear gas canister in Nabi Saleh December 2010 - photo from popularstruggle.org