In June 2011, about a month after he was appointed police commissioner, Yonanan Danino wrote an article for Israel Hayom in which he vowed to "throw out those wild weeds who do irreversible harm to the [police's] image." But 16 months later, it seems this promise has been honored mainly in the breach:
Haaretz has discovered no fewer than 20 cases since Danino took office in which policemen who were proven to have lied, either during an investigation or in court, were given at most a slap on the wrist. Not a single defendant in these 20 cases - which constitute about a fifth of all disciplinary cases against policemen for any type of offense in 2011 - has been ousted from the force, and some have even been promoted.
One such policeman is Chief Inspector Ilan Malka, who was convicted by a disciplinary tribunal in August of having deliberately sprayed an innocent bystander with pepper spray while quelling disturbances by right-wing activists in the settlement of Yitzhar in April 2010. The tribunal also found that a day after the incident, Malka got one of his subordinates to write a false report on it, which Malka then approved. Malka also briefed the subordinate on how to respond should the Justice Ministry's department for investigating police misconduct question him about the incident.
Nevertheless, the tribunal made do with sentencing him to a reprimand and a fine. Today, Malka is a youth investigator for the Shomron District police.
Another case involved two policemen who were found by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to have systematically falsified their incident reports on the arrest of four settlers from Yitzhar in 2004. Constable Yaakov Golan and Superintendent Gil Desheh said the settlers had violently robbed a Palestinian shepherd. But the court, in a verdict issued in March 2010, found that the two policemen had lied both in their incident reports and in court, and were in fact guilty of false arrest.
Due to this verdict, the Justice Ministry decided they should face disciplinary charges. But they have yet to be brought before a disciplinary tribunal.
Another egregious case involved Superintendent Haim Schreibhand, who broke into a Rehovot man's home without a search warrant and dragged him away without even letting him dress. Video footage showed the man being removed from his home half naked. The man was released a few hours later, clear of all suspicion, and he promptly sued the police.
In November 2011, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court found that both the video footage and the contradictions in his own testimony proved Schreibhand's story - that the man had first refused to open the door and then resisted arrest - to be false, and ordered him to pay the plaintiff NIS 30,000 in damages. But the police's disciplinary department decided not to file disciplinary charges against him, saying his falsehoods were "not substantial." He was subsequently promoted to head the Rehovot police's investigation department.
The gravity of the police's conduct in such cases is one issue on which activists from both left and right, from settlers to Palestinians, all agree.
"The root of the problem is the fact that this process takes place in a disciplinary tribunal, whereas an ordinary citizen would undoubtedly face criminal charges for obstructing justice or obstructing an investigation," said Orit Struck, head of the Yesha Human Rights Organization, which offers legal aid to settlers. "The way the [police's] disciplinary department deals with these offenses shows ... contempt for the value of truth-telling by law enforcement officials. Policemen put on trial are promoted afterward; there's zero motivation to address what is termed a 'culture of lying' in the police. All this deals a mortal blow to the public's trust in the police."
Gabi Lasky, a lawyer who frequently represents left-wing activists and Palestinians, concurred. "It's not just once or twice that I've gotten acquittals in court because policemen were found not to be telling the truth," she said. "But despite this, there are no sanctions against these policemen in any court, and no one thinks they ought to stand trial for this."
The police responded that any time a court finds a policeman hasn't told the truth, the verdict is sent to the Justice Ministry's department for investigating police misconduct. If the ministry decides not to file criminal charges, whether due to lack of evidence or lack of public interest, the verdict then goes to the police's disciplinary department, which decides whether to take disciplinary action.
"In 2011 alone, charges were filed against 118 policemen, of whom 76 were convicted, and some were even dismissed from the service," the statement continued. The specific cases mentioned in this article were "examined by the relevant professionals in the Israel Police in accordance with orders and regulations," it said, and some are still awaiting disciplinary action.
Any attempt to draw conclusions by "linking a few isolated cases [deriving] from various incidents that occurred over many years," the statement concluded, "is artificial and forced."