Adalah: After numerous fatal shootings, police must publish open-fire rules of engagement

Adalah: The police's contention that publishing the instructions could harm state security and threaten public order is baseless.

On 10 December 2015, Adalah filed an administrative petition  to the Lod District Court against the Israeli police asking for an order to compel the police to publish the full open-fire rules of engagement. Adalah's petition to the court follows the police’s refusal, at Adalah’s request, to publicize the rules of engagement.


These rules include: instructions under which police officers act during protests in East Jerusalem and in the Naqab (Negev); instructions and procedures regarding the opening of fire against minors; and instructions for the use of "Ruger" rifles as a method of riot control. Adalah's petition emphasized that in September 2015, during an intensive wave of violence, the Israeli government announced a change in the rules of engagement, but the Israeli police refused to release information about the new procedures and their standard regulations.


Adalah Attorney Mohammad Bassam, who prepared the petition, stated that the videos, which have documented fatal shootings by police officers against suspects, raise grave concern: "After changing the [open-fire] rules of engagement, and perhaps as a result of that decision, there were a number of incidents in which it is feared that the police used lethal force in unjustifiable circumstances.”


In addition, Adalah stated that: "It is essential that the central institution responsible for law enforcement and public order, the use of force and the opening of fire against individuals, publicize these rules. This information must be written, clear and available for public scrutiny and judicial review.”


The petition relied, among other bases, on conclusions from the report of the Or Commission of Inquiry that investigated the events that led to the killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel, during demonstrations in October 2000. The petition emphasized that the Or Commission emphatically stated that despite the existence of regulations governing the use of rubber bullets, those regulations were not sufficiently tested before they were put into action. Therefore, Adalah argued that there is a risk of illegality, if the rules of engagement are not exposed to public scrutiny and judicial review.


In addition, the petition highlighted that the Israel Police publishes defined operational procedures, and therefore there is no evidence that publishing the rules of the practices in question may cause harm to the state’s security, public safety or the welfare of the people. Currently, procedures on using certain types of guns and munitions, as well as other means for crowd control including the use of liquid skunk bombs, pepper spray, and other dispersal measures, are published. "Thus, not only is the publication of ‘operational’ procedures commonplace...but also the respondent’s contention that the publication of the instructions involves a potential violation of state security and a threat to public order, is baseless..."


Adalah argued that under the law, the authorities are expected to disclose this type of information, and that the withholding of this information is unconstitutional. In the context of the rules of engagement, Attorney Bassam emphasized that there are four main reasons to make them known to the public: (1) There is a public interest in how the authorities operate; (2) The individual has a right to know the norms of governance that affect their lives; (3) Publication prevents arbitrariness and discrimination in formulating instructions; and (4) The exposure of the rules is needed for public scrutiny and judicial review. Therefore, Adalah demanded that the District Court order the police to provide information about the most recent rules of engagement.


Case Citation:  Administrative Petition 23001-12-15, Adalah v. Israel Police