Monday, February 14, 2011
Tear gas death triggers mobilization against Israel’s lethal tear gas
In new photos of the CSI plant in Jamestown, PA, two flags are seen flying side by side, the flag of the United States, and the flag of Israel. The teargas produced at this plant has been used on protestors in Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine.
Jawaher Abu Rahmah’s January 1, 2011 death after she was overcome with tear gas at a protest in Bil’in has triggered a mobilization against the companies that provide Israel’s tear gas. Israel is using this tear gas to kill and maim unarmed protesters and as part of an effort to crush the Palestinian-led protest movement against the construction of Israel’s wall and settlements in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law. Twenty-one Palestinian protesters have been killed in unarmed protests against Israel’s wall since 2004, including two killed by tear gas. The majority of the 21 were shot and killed with live ammunition.
Combined Systems Inc. of Jamestown, Pennsylvania is the primary provider of tear gas to the Israeli army, and Defense Technology of Casper, Wyoming (owned by BAE Systems in the UK) is a major provider of tear gas to the Israel’s police. After Jawaher’s death Israeli activists quickly held a protest in Tel Aviv, attempting to return spent US tear gas canisters to the US Ambassador at his home. Human rights advocates then held a New York protest at Point Lookout Capital Partners in New York City, a major investor in CSI. Two protests were held at CSI’s headquarters in Jamestown, PA. Additionally, over 1000 letters have been emailed to executives from CSI, Point Lookout Capital Partners and the Carlyle Group, another major investor in CSI, calling on CSI to stop provision of tear gas to Israel. Finally, evidence has been collected showing that Israel has a long history of inflicting death and injury using tear gas as a lethal weapon
Recent deaths and injuries from Israeli tear gas
Jawaher’s brother Bassem Abu Rahmah was murdered when he was shot by an Israeli soldier directly in the chest with an extended range CSI extended range tear gas canister in April 2009. In March 2009, an Israel soldier shot Tristan Anderson, an American citizen, in the head during a demonstration in Ni'ilin with a CSI extended range tear gas canister leaving him partially handicapped and suffering slight cognitive damage. Both cases were thoroughly documented by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. In a September, 2010 report, The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee noted that, “18 people have been directly shot at and hit by the high velocity [extended range] projectiles” in Bil’in and Ni’ilin alone. Also severely injured was Bil'in resident Khamis Abu Rahmah who “suffered a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage." Another US citizen, 21-year-old Emily Henochowicz, lost her left eye when an Israeli soldier fired an aluminum tear gas canister directly at her, also possibly manufactured by CSI, striking her face during a West Bank protest in May 2010. The initials CTS, an acronym for Combined Tactical Systems and a brand name of CSI, can be found on many canisters used by the Israeli military.
B’Tselem reported in an April 2009 letter to the Israeli military’s Judge Advocate General that the direct firing of tear gas at protesters was common practice and violated both Israeli open-fire regulations and CSI product instructions. Nonetheless, the firing of tear gas canisters directly at protesters by Israeli soldiers has continued, and has been documented as recently as January 14, 2011.
According to +972Mag, in September, 2010 an 18-month-old child died at a hospital after being overcome with tear gas in East Jerusalem. In addition, Ha’aretz Daily and The Forward have recently reported on a 2003 Israeli army study, which revealed that very high concentrations of the tear gas Israel uses could be lethal. Palestinian villages that protest Israeli land seizure are regularly engulfed in tear gas by the Israeli army, with unknown long-term health impacts for residents and their Israeli protest supporters.
Since January 3, CSI has repeatedly refused to respond to letters and journalists’ inquiries about accusations of Israeli misuse of their products.
Past deaths from Israeli tear gas
B’Tselem documented two additional deaths caused by Israeli tear gas in June 2002. Muhammad Ishteiwi, a 14 year-old from al-Far'a refugee camp in Tubas, was killed after he collapsed after being hit in the chest by a rubber bullet. When he fell, a tear gas canister exploded near his face and killed him. Khader al-Gharbi died after inhaling tear gas from more than 20 grenades which were thrown into his Silwan, East Jerusalem home.
A June 1988 Amnesty International report entitled “The Misuse of Tear Gas by Israeli Army Personnel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” documented that “Local medical personnel have reported that since December 1987 more than 40 people have died following tear-gas inhalation and that the victims belonged to sections of the population who were especially vulnerable to tear gas inhalation –babies and elderly and sick people.” Amnesty International expressed concern that tear-gas was being deliberately misused and may have caused or contributed to deaths, and that Israeli military authorities had been at the very least negligent in preventing misuse. According to a 1990 report by Save the Children, ''Tear gas was routinely misused, either fired directly at children's bodies and heads and launched into enclosed areas including houses, schools, clinics and hospitals as a form of punishment and harassment.''
The major provider of tear gas to Israel at the time, Federal Laboratories of Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, and its parent company TransTechnology halted the provision of to Israel for four months in 1988, until they said they had received reassurances that Israel would use the tear gas properly. In 1992 the Center for Constitutional Rights sued Federal Laboratories and TransTechnology in a Pennsylvania court, alleging that the CS gas they sent to Israel was “a defective and unreasonably dangerous product,” and that they sold the gas to Israel despite knowing that “ Israel's use of CS gas had resulted in many civilian deaths.“ The court dismissed the case on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction because the plaintiffs were not citizens of any state.
Protests against Israel’s tear gas use in Israel and US
On January 2, 2011, just after Jawaher’s death, Israeli activists protested outside the home of the US Ambassador to Israel in Tel Aviv and attempted to “return” spent US-made tear gas canisters fired at protesters the US Ambassador. In January, 2011, Pennsylvania and Ohio activists protested twice at the office of Combined Systems Inc. in Jamestown, PA. In a January 18th article on the Martin Luther King Day protest at CSI, The Record-Argus of Greenville, PA, reported that the demonstrators explained that “Workers had complained to them that the company pays just above minimum wage to workers handling potentially dangerous components used to make the tear gas, and that safety precautions at the plant are considered lax by some.”
On January 11, 2011, 35 New Yorkers demonstrated outside the midtown Manhattan offices of Point Lookout Capital Partners, a New York investment firm that invests in Combined Systems Inc. (CSI). The Carlyle Group is a defense contractor and another major investor in Combined Systems Inc.. The Carlyle Group, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has been a major target of anti-war protesters who labeled the company as a “war profiteer.”
One thousand emails sent to CSI, Point Lookout Capital Partners, Carlyle Group, plus US State Department
On January 3rd, four US organizations - Adalah-NY, CodePink, Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation – sent a letter to CSI calling on it to end its provision of tear gas to Israel due to Israel’s use of that tear gas to kill and maim unarmed protesters.
Since then, over one thousand people have emailed CSI, Point Lookout Capital Partners and the Carlyle Group, calling on CSI to end its provision of tear gas to Israel, following an action alert issued by Adalah-NY and other groups. One thousand and nine hundred people have signed a related petition to CSI by the group CodePink.
The tear gas sent by CSI to the Israeli military may be provided to Israel by US taxpayers as part of the US government's $3 billion in annual military aid to Israel. For example, for 2007 and 2008, the US State Department provided $1.85 million worth of "tear gasses and riot control agents" to Israel as part of US military aid. Seven hundred and twenty people have also emailed the US State Department officials calling on the US government to stop its provision of tear gas and military aid to Israel until Israel ends human rights abuses. The emails to the State Department also called on the US government to speak out strongly against Israel’s jailing of Palestinian protest organizers.
Defense Technology, a second US tear gas company supplying Israel
A Corporate Watch report has affirmed CSI’s role in providing tear gas to Israel, and also proven the role of Defense Technology in providing tear gas to Israel. Corporate Watch published a photo taken in East Jerusalem of a Defense Technology container for holding its tear gas. Defense Technology is headquartered in Casper, Wyoming, and is owned by the UK arms giant BAE Systems. BAE Systems also owns the US arms company Armor Holdings, and may possibly now own Federal Laboratories, another company that has provided tear gas to Israel, and was the object of protests and lawsuits during the first intifada
CSI provides most of the tear gas to the Israeli army, while Defense Technology provides tear gas to Israel’s police. Who Profits, a project of Israel’s Coalition of Women for Peace, is expected to issue a report on the companies providing tear gas to Israel shortly.