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Israeli police officers stand guard in East Jerusalem, Dec. 27, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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A frame grab from a security camera showing police officers arresting and beating a Palestinian man during a raid in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah. Photo by Courtesy

Questioning a 7-year-old child as a suspect or detaining him without his parents present is against the law. But that didn't stop five masked policemen from bursting into the Abdal-Razak home in East Jerusalem in the middle of the night, looking for 7-year-old L., who was suspected of throwing stones.

This is one of four cases against police actions in East Jerusalem that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is appealing after the original files were closed due to lack of blame, lack of evidence or lack of public interest.

During the May 2011 incident at their home, members of the Abdal-Razak family tried to prevent the boy's arrest. The child's aunt was shot in the leg by police wielding crowd-dispersal equipment, while L.'s father was hit with a rifle butt and his face was sprayed with pepper spray. L. himself suffered a hand injury.

After the confrontation, the boy was taken alone to the police jeep, where he stayed for two hours while the policemen cruised around East Jerusalem. His mother, who tried to run after the vehicle, was not allowed to approach. Only after L. was brought to the lockup at the Russian Compound was she reunited with him.

The family filed a claim with the Justice Ministry's department for the investigation of police officers, but after about six months, the department announced it was closing the file against them due to lack of culpability.

The investigations department told Haaretz, "The police force, which entered the home of the complainant to detain him, faced physical resistance, including stone throwing. The bruises observed on the appellant matched the policemen's explanations regarding the use of reasonable force, which was needed to remove the complainant from his home against his will."

But according to Nasrin Alian, an attorney for ACRI, the very act of taking a 7-year-old boy from his parents is a violation of the law.

"The facts are not in dispute: Detaining a 7-year-old without his parents while using force; firing crowd-dispersal equipment directly at a person at close range and in a building; hitting someone with a rifle butt; and spraying pepper spray against regulations are all serious criminal violations, and they are backed by medical documentation. All these must be taken into account," she wrote in her appeal.

Alian noted that the Justice Ministry's investigations department didn't bother to carry out the most basic inquiry; the policemen themselves were never questioned, nor was anyone called to give evidence other than the family members who filed the claim. The department also declined to give ACRI all the documentation related to the case, claiming that it was classified material.

In another case being handled by ACRI, four days before the Abdal-Razak incident, Sharif Abed, a resident of the East Jerusalem village of Isawiyah, was driving into the village as police faced with a spate of stone-throwing by village teens. The policemen stopped Abed, pulled him out of his car, threw him on the ground, kicked and punched him for about a minute and then ordered him away from the area.

He filed a claim with the investigations department, but after three months the investigators closed the case for lack of evidence.

When ACRI pointed out that the file included a video documenting the policemen's behavior, it was reopened. But around two-and-a-half months ago, ACRI got a letter saying the case was being closed again, this time for "lack of public interest."

During the intervening months, there was no evidence that the investigation department had done anything further, ACRI said.

"How can it be that the unreasonable use of force against a bystander is not of public interest?" Alian asked.

The investigation department's response: "From the incident as viewed in the video, which was checked by department investigators, it emerged that the use of force was limited to forcibly removing the complainant from his car and distancing him from the scene."

In another incident, a 16-year-old from East Jerusalem with special needs was attacked by policemen as he waited for his brother to pick him up. He was sprayed with pepper spray, arrested, questioned for 10 minutes and released. In this case the department initiated disciplinary proceedings against two of the policemen, but the criminal investigation against them was closed.

Alian says residents of East Jerusalem have lost all faith in the police, and as a result those who suffer brutality at the hands of members of the force are reluctant to file complaints.

The Justice Ministry says in response: "[ACRI's] appeal notifications are not accurate, and do not reflect the full picture and background of the incidents ... Despite the inherent complexity [of its work], the department works decisively to complete investigations into incidents where suspicions of a criminal violation by a policeman is raised. In 2011, the department pursued disciplinary or criminal proceedings against more than 200 policemen for various violations."