This video shows Israeli forces using a dog to attack and injure 20-year-old Ahmad Shteiwi as he participated in an anti-occupation protest in the West Bank village of Kufr Qaddoum, near Nablus, in March 2012.
It is one of numerous instances of Israeli forces setting dogs on unarmed Palestinian civilians, including children – a violent tactic reminiscent of US police practices against Black citizens.
Such dogs “are intentionally used by Israeli occupying forces to terrorize and bite Palestinian civilians, especially during protests and night house raids,” Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin wrote to Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders and trade minister Lilianne Ploumen earlier this month.
Attacks on children
After the images of the 2012 attack on Shteiwi emerged, causing embarrassment to Israel, the army announced it would temporarily stop using dogs at demonstrations.
In one instance, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy detained by Israeli occupation forces last August and taken to an Israeli settlement, said an interrogator threatened to “bring dogs into the room and that he would deny me food,” if the child did not confess to throwing stones.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also documented at least eight cases of Israeli army dogs being used to attack and injure Palestinian civilians in 2011-2012.
Israel’s use of dogs against civilians recalls infamous scenes from the US Civil Rights struggle, when white supremacist police used dogs to attack Black citizens demanding their rights.
But it also remains a present-day similarity, as highlighted in the US Department of Justice investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, launched after the lethal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown in August 2014 sparked nationwide protests against police racism and brutality.
The report of the investigation, published in March, found that police in the Missouri town “exclusively set their dogs against Black individuals, often in cases where doing so was not justified by the danger presented.”
In one case, the report states, “officers deployed a canine to bite an unarmed 14-year-old African American boy who was waiting in an abandoned house for his friends,” causing puncture wounds to his arm.
The civil rights group adds that “their handlers have been implicated in a vicious form of racial profiling” that has led to legal action across the US in recent years.
In the early 1990s, for instance, the ACLU of Southern California documented hundreds of mostly Black and Latino citizens being bitten by Los Angeles Police Department dogs. It alleged that the dogs, trained to “attack and maul,” were routinely sent into nonviolent situations.
Trained to terrorize
Police dogs trained in the Netherlands to bite civilians have been exported to Israel for more than two decades.
Tonny Boeijen, owner of Four Winds K9, boasts that 90 percent of the dogs used by the Israeli military are trained by his company, based near the eastern city of Nijmegen.
He told the newspaper NRC that he has delivered dozens of dogs to Israel every year for 23 years.
Another 15 to 30 dogs are provided to Israel annually by Engelbert Uphues, a trainer in the German city of Ramsdorf, NRC states.
The Dutch government requires firms to obtain licenses to export so-called “strategic goods.” But a license will be denied if a correlation can be established between the export and human rights violations.
Military and police dogs are not considered strategic goods, but the Dutch police and defense ministry classify them as “means to violence,” just like pepper spray and handguns.
The Netherlands considers Israel to be a sensitive country for exports – along with Iran, Eritrea, South Sudan and others accused of human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law.
“The dogs are absolutely used by Israel as weapons against Palestinians and their export must be banned,” human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told NRC.
“It is common sense that service dogs fall under the rules on strategic goods,” Wassila Hachchi, a member of parliament for the center-left D66 party, has said. She is among a group of lawmakers from several parties urging the government to stop the exports to Israel.
The Dutch customs service has already halted the export of strategic goods to Israel including handguns, camouflage paint and infrared cameras.
Trade minister Lilian Ploumen told parliament last month that she is willing to stop the export of military dogs as well.
She said that although the dogs do not fall under European rules governing strategic goods, she would look into establishing a national system to regulate their export. She added that she would also discuss a common approach with European counterparts.
But given the ongoing and widespread complicity of EU governments in Israeli abuses, it is likely that sustained pressure will be needed to translate words into action.
Risk of legal action
Israel’s use of dogs to intimidate and terrorize civilians is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Al-Haq states in its letter to the Dutch government.
Individual executives from complicit companies such as Four Winds K9, and even Dutch customs or other officials, could therefore be held accountable for aiding and abetting war crimes, Al-Haq warns.
Dutch human rights attorney Liesbeth Zegveld says she’s already looking into whether she can sue Four Winds K9 and the Dutch state on behalf of Palestinian victims.
Ali Abunimah contributed research.