How Israeli negligence led to the death of a Palestinian car thief
After being seriously hurt in an accident, the thief was dumped in the middle of the night, shoeless and clad only in a thin hospital gown. Police and hospital staff blame everyone but themselves for his death that night.
The figure at the side of the road was completely still. A pedestrian who saw him in the early morning light came close, and found the body of a young man. He was barefoot and clad in a thin hospital gown from the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
It was only a few days later − after the man’s family was located in the Gaza Strip and brought to Israel for DNA testing − that his identity was clarified. The dead man was Omar Abu Jariban, 35, an illegal resident in Israel. Three days before his corpse was found he had been released from the hospital and taken to the Rehovot police station. At the station he seemed confused, unable to fathom what was going on around him, non-communicative and barely ambulatory. Instead of readmitting him to hospital, senior police officers at the station decided to “return him to the territories” − a code phrase meaning dumping him at a road junction in the middle of the night. Three policemen were sent to take the man and leave him by the side of the road.
Since then, for four and a half years police officers have thrown the blame around, at each other and also against the Sheba Medical Center. Documents which have reached Haaretz attest to a sequence of mishaps and misdoings that night, starting with the hospital, continuing with medical procedures enacted by the police and the Israel Prison Service, and concluding with a low-ranking police officer at the Rehovot station.
Omar Abu Jariban’s final journey began on May 28, 2008. That day, together with a friend from Ramallah, he stole a car and set off on Route 6, the Trans-Israel Highway. The two drove wildly, and close to the Soreq interchange crashed into another car, injuring four people. Badly hurt, Abu Jariban was taken to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot. Due to the severity of his condition, he was transferred to Sheba. The Rehovot police assumed responsibility for investigating the accident and the car theft.
When he reached the Sheba Medical Center, Abu Jariban was classified as an anonymous patient. Brought into an operating theater, his condition was diagnosed − haemorrhaging in the brain, a broken clavicle, fractured pelvis and a torn aorta. The police were told that the patient’s treatment would last at least three weeks. On June 5 he was transferred to the orthopedic ward; convalescing there, he developed pneumonia.
A week later, on Thursday June 12, the medical team decided that Abu Jariban had concluded the essential part of his treatment, and could be moved out of the hospital. At 11:18 Dr. Gal Fichman signed Abu Jariban’s release form. The medical opinion was not grim − the patient was fit for release, and needed to do some exercise at home: “He can press down fully on his left leg, and partially step on his right foot. Recommendation: Walk with the use of a brace. Can take pain-killers if needed. He should report to an outpatient clinic for a follow-up check in six weeks. Home physiotherapy to strengthen muscles.” The doctor signed a sick-leave pass for 45 days.
Just 38 minutes went by, and a nurse prepared another discharge form. In this document, Abu Jariban’s condition was listed as being far more serious. “Orientation − off and on. Communication skills − off and on. Mobility − not stable when walking. Periodically confused. Probability of falling. Way of eating: Needs partial help. The patient was washed and attended to in bed. Urinates via catheter. The patient is confused. Needs help eating and drinking.”
Two policemen from the Rehovot police station came to take Abu Jariban. A nurse, Igor Bleiber, met them. One of the policeman, Ro’i Baram, subsequently testified to what he saw that day: “The detainee was lying with his arms tied to the bed, bandaged. We saw an adult diaper and a catheter.”
Speaking with Haaretz, Baram said: “It seemed a bit strange to bring a person in a diaper to the station. We spoke with Igor, who said there was no problem taking him away. He told another nurse to dress the suspect, and he saw that we handcuffed the man and took him from the hospital.”
When the policemen reached their car, they grasped that they really had a problem. In testimony given to the police officer assigned to investigate the episode, Baram related: “The nurse came with us, wheeling [Abu Jariban] in a wheelchair, and then he returned the wheelchair. He couldn’t move and so we lifted him into the police car. His pants kept falling down. When we reached the police station, I went off to get a wheelchair in order to bring him inside. When we moved him into the chair, the catheter opened. Without help, he fastened it anew. Then we
wheeled him into the station.”
Why was Abu Jariban released from the hospital even though it was clear that he required constant medical monitoring? After his death, the police and hospital traded accusations. Staff at the Sheba Medical Center claim that the man self-evidently required continued medical attention at an Israel Prison Service facility.
“I think it was relayed to the police that he should be referred to a medical rehabilitation center,” testified Dr. Fichman to police investigators. “We wouldn’t have released him had there not been somebody who could have taken him for continued rehabilitation treatment.”
The police, in contrast, say that nothing along these lines was said to them. Abu Jariban’s medical documents indicate that nothing was recorded about the need to transfer him to any other medical facility. On the contrary: The release orders refer to rehabilitation treatment to be undertaken at home. In such cases, the hospital is not eager to volunteer prolonged medical treatment funded out of its own budget.
Chief Superintendent Yossi Bachar, commander of the Rehovot police station, subsequently testified to the investigating officer that he operated on the assumption that “the hospital simply wanted to free the bed.”
When Abu Jariban reached the police station, officers on hand soon realized that something was amiss. “I received him at the station, and I had a bad feeling,” one policeman later testified. “I never received a detainee in such a condition, with a catheter still in his arm.”
‘Humanitarian reasons of conscience’
Bachar came onto the scene at this point. This is when a sequence of misdoings started, culminating in the Palestinian man’s tragic end. First of all, policemen at the station decided to turn to the physician responsible for police matters in the region. This physician decided not to make the trip to Rehovot and examine the patient; instead he asked that the release report’s contents be read to him over the telephone. After this consultation, and in view of Abu Jariban’s condition, the police decided to admit him for convalescence at the Israel Prison Service’s medical facility, but the Prison Service claimed not to have any vacant beds.
Rehovot police made a number of efforts to identify the patient-suspect. Bachar brought in Shin Bet security service investigators, but they reported that they lacked any intelligence information that might help identify him. The police consulted with colleagues from Rishon Letzion, but they said that their suspect-identification station was not in operation. Bachar decided to release the suspect, despite the fact that he had not seen him, and hadn’t ascertained whether there was any place to where the man should be brought.
Testifying to police investigators, Bachar said that the catheter didn’t set off any red lights. “My grandfather went about with a catheter, and that didn’t seem unusual to me,” he said. “I noted that he needed monitoring, that there was no cell in which he could be held, and that in all likelihood, somebody who was in a road accident wouldn’t race off to steal another car. I also noted that he had a catheter, and that the only thing which bothered me was that he had stolen a car and was being released, that perhaps he was a terrorist or somebody sought by the Shin Bet. Despite all this, it was nighttime and the person had been released from a hospital after an accident, and so for humanitarian reasons of conscience, I decided to let him go to his family.”
Bachar actually decided to take Abu Jariban to the police station at Kfar Sava for a last attempt to identify him. Should this not produce anything, the station commander decided, the suspect would be released at the Maccabim border crossing. Orders along these lines were relayed to Baruch Peretz, the officer on duty during the shift. Peretz, 38, formerly served in the Border Police. He served as an officer in the Rehovot station’s community branch, and sometimes worked as the duty officer for shifts at the station. He was the man assigned to take care of Abu Jariban.
At 10 P.M., Abu Jariban’s death march began. A low-ranking policeman, Assaf Yakutieli, together with a volunteer policeman, put the Palestinian in a police car. Without wondering whether what they were doing was legal, they grabbed Abu Jariban under the arms, and stuffed him into the squad car; the volunteer folded his legs into the vehicle.
The police car went to Kfar Sava, only to be informed by officers there that they were unable to identify the man. Yakutieli telephoned Peretz. The duty officer told him to leave the suspect at the Maccabim crossing point.
The commander of this checkpoint refused to take responsibility for Abu Jariban, however, and so the police car continued to Route 443, toward the Atarot border crossing (which has subsequently been removed). There, too, Border Police refused to take responsibility for the man. After the third such refusal, Yakutieli phoned the duty officer and told him that he would leave Abu Jariban at a well-lit junction, so that he would be picked up by Palestinians.
At 2:50 A.M. Abu Jariban was taken out of the car on Route 45, between the Ofer army base and the Atarot crossing point. He was left by the side of the road. The policemen apparently did not know that Palestinian vehicles were not allowed to travel on this road. Abu Jariban was left to his own devices, wearing his hospital gown and with the discharge papers in his pocket. The catheter was still with him. He was barefoot. The policemen left neither food nor drink with him; they reported that they had completed the mission.
Yakutieli subsequently testified: “Together with the volunteer, we took the detainee out of the car and placed him behind the safety railing so that he wouldn’t be hurt. He wasn’t removed very far from the road − he was left in a place where he would be able to hitch-hike a lift. We made a report and then drove off.”
The police investigator asked him to clarify his reasoning about the suspect’s ability to get a lift on a speedy highway. Yakutieli replied: “I expected that cars would stop at the side of the road, that someone would take him in and give him a ride. All told, he is one of their people and the Arabs are known for their solidarity.”
On Sunday morning, June 15, a pedestrian discovered Abu Jariban’s corpse. A bread roll and a soft drink can were beside the body. Subsequently, police argued that these objects prove that the young man was able to take care of himself. The autopsy established that he died of dehydration.
Binyamin Region police turned to the Sheba Medical Center for help identifying the body. From this point, the police appointed an investigating officer, and Abu Jariban’s family was contacted.
Speaking from the Gaza Strip, Abu Jariban’s brother Mohammed says that the family is outraged by the death. “They simply threw him to the dogs,” Mohammed says. “Had they brought him to the Erez border crossing, we would have taken care of him.”
Passing the buck
The investigating officer’s report, which has reached Haaretz, points to a long list of failings. “In the final analysis, an unhealthy person who was the responsibility of institutions of the State of Israel was left at a junction at 3 A.M., dressed in a hospital gown, barefoot, with a catheter, barely able to walk; he was left with no food or drink, and without the basic assistance he required,” the report noted.
Among other misdoings, the report notes: “The police physicians and the Prison Service doctor reached the decision that the illegal resident could be detained only with medical supervision, but they didn’t clarify to the police commanders anything about the man’s health condition on his release. The hospital was not informed by any police representative that the detainee was being taken into custody ...
“The regional commander and the commander of the Rehovot police station believed that the illegal resident was released from the hospital the way any patient is released.
A specific order came from Bachar to brief Peretz that the illegal resident should be taken to the Maccabim crossing point, and brought to a designated person; nobody confirmed that this order was carried out. Peretz trusted the head of the group of policemen who told him on the phone that he knew the area very well, since he lives in the territories, and that he would leave the man in a secure area close to the entrance of a village. Later this policeman claimed that he once lived in Jerusalem and would travel on Route 443 to Tel Aviv, but had no knowledge regarding the entrances to villages. Apparently he lied about his knowledge of the region.”
As a result of the police investigation, negligent homicide charges were filed in March 2009 against Peretz and Yakutieli. Evidence has yet to be submitted in a trial of the pair; meantime, Yakutieli has been appointed an instructor in a police operations school, and Peretz has been named officer in charge of volunteers at the Lod police station.
Peretz blames his superior officers who gave him the order. He says that Bachar is responsible, and recently petitioned the High Court of Justice to indict his commanders, including Bachar, and the Sheba Medical Center in the case. The volunteer and policeman who accompanied Peretz on the fateful night journey have not been charged.
During the internal police investigation, Bachar was questioned under warning about a possible indictment on charges of reckless homicide. He faced police disciplinary charges, but his career has advanced steadily since this tragedy. Two years ago he was promoted to the rank of commander, and appointed operations officer for the central region. He is currently on a study leave.
The police response to this report: “This sorrowful case has been reviewed a number of times by the police internal investigations unit and the state prosecutor’s office, and a decision was reached to indict two policemen. The promotion of Commander Bachar was reviewed by the police and the Public Security Ministry, and he was found worthy of promotion. We do not intend to relate to details of these events, as judgment about them is pending in the High Court.”
The Sheba Medical Center’s response: “The hospital’s staff made considerable efforts to save the life of Abu Jariban, and to attend to his health. When he was released, police responsible for him were informed that he should be brought to a convalescence and care facility. From the moment he was relayed to the police, we had no control over the sequence of events leading to his being found, dead.”
Attorney Zadok Hugi, who represents Chief Inspector Baruch Peretz: “After higher-ranking police officers decided on [Abu Jariban’s] release, Peretz had no leeway or discretion, and could not disobey this order. More than anything, responsibility here rests with the hospital.”
Jack Khoury assisted in preparing this report.