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U.S. Tear Gas Manufacturer Sued for Deaths of Eight Palestinians

December 23, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A California firm supplying tear gas to Israel is being sued for alleged responsibility in the deaths of eight Palestinians.

The suit accuses Trans Technology of Sherman Oaks, Calif., and its manufacturing division, Federal Laboratories of Saltsburg, Pa., of selling tear gas to Israel, even though they knew their product would be used recklessly by the Israeli military, resulting in multiple civilian deaths.

The two companies “are guilty of the worst kind of negligence and indifference, the kind that results in the deaths of innocent people,” charged Beth Stephens of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York public interest firm representing the plaintiffs.

In filing the suit in federal district court in Pittsburgh, Stephens also charged that the product, called CS gas, “is a toxic substance which is highly dangerous to people who inhale its fumes,” the Los Angeles Times reported last Friday.

Company officials in California and Pennsylvania refused to comment on the suit and were not even willing to explain the term “CS gas.”

In a prepared statement, however, Robert Tunno, president of Federal Laboratories, said that tear gas was a preferred alternative to “use of deadly force” and that all sales foreign countries had to be approved by the U.S. State Department.

The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles would only say that newspaper reports about the suit had been forwarded to the appropriate authorities in Jerusalem.

The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of the spouses and children of the eight victims, all residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem.


One of the plaintiffs is Rihab Essawi, a West Bank resident and U.S. citizen. He claims his mother, Fatima Essawi, 68, was killed on June 29, 1990, after a CS gas canister landed on the enclosed porch outside a window and filled the living room with its fumes.

“She had difficulty breathing, turned blue and died 40 minutes after arriving at a hospital,” the suit stated.

Another alleged victim was Mohammed Abed Ahmad Mash’al, 47, a father of eight, who died May 22, 1990, after walking through a tear gas-infested area to his home in Jaba Mukalber.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jules Lobel, professor of international law at the University of Pittsburgh, said, “The principle involved in this case is that U.S. companies should be held liable when they knowingly aid in the commission of human rights abuses.”

Trans Technology suspended sales of tear gas to Israel in April 1988, after public protests about its misuse by the Israel Defense Forces, according to the Times report. Sales were resumed four months later, after Israeli officials assured the company that the gas was being used properly.

The suit alleges that Israel continued to misuse tear gas after the sales were resumed in 1988, such as firing it directly at people, not allowing them a means of escape, and failure to provide medical assistance to those overcome by the gas.

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