Police Using Drones to Track West Bank Hate Crime Perpetrators

Court documents in case of Eli resident charged with torching Palestinians’ olive trees reveal UAV use.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Damaged olive trees in a West Bank Palestinian village (illustration photo). Credit: Guy / Taayush
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Police in the West Bank are using drone aircraft to monitor potential perpetrators of hate crimes against Arabs, according to documents recently submitted in court.

A year ago, a special unit was established in the Shai District Police, which is responsible for the West Bank, to deal with hate crimes carried out by Jewish extremists against Palestinians as well as Israeli soldiers and police officers. These crimes are widely referred to as “price tag” attacks, since their goal is to “exact a price” for any government move against the settlements.

The unit was given 80 police officers and a large budget. And it now turns out it was also given equipment, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, that no other unit of the Israel Police has and that even the army uses sparingly.

On March 30, Harel Koren, 30, of the settlement of Eli, was apprehended in the act of chopping down olive trees belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Karyut.

Koren, who had been arrested several times before for violence against Palestinians, escaped the Palestinians who initially spotted him, but was caught in a police ambush when he returned to the grove the same evening. In April, he was charged with torching nine trees and trying to torch another three.

Documents submitted to the court revealed that police were monitoring Koren for hours before they caught him, after receiving intelligence information indicating that he was planning a crime. They used a drone, which transmitted images in real time to unit headquarters in Ma’aleh Adumim.

One of the documents – a memorandum written by Nir Seroussi, a Shai District intelligence officer – describes how the process worked:

“We planned the operation based on information that Harel Koren, who is known to us from [previous] property crimes, was planning to vandalize trees belonging to Palestinians, in light of the fact that residents of Karyut had received permission to harvest,” Seroussi wrote. “From the start of the operation, I watched the monitor [feed] from the lookout camera, and it was evident that a person had appeared, wearing a shirt belonging to Koren. He changed his clothes and began to move. After torching the trees, he ran southward. The police force began pursuing on foot, and after a few meters, caught the person.”

Altogether, the drone was in operation for six hours.

This isn’t the only unusual tactic used by the Shai District police. Another is attaching GPS transmitters to the cars of potential criminals.

Koren’s attorney, Itamar Ben Gvir, told Haaretz, “Without making light of the crime attributed to the defendant, at this rate, drones will be sent aloft to track the girls who spray-paint walls with slogans like ‘price tag’ ... I understand that there’s pressure from politicians, but the police and prosecution are obligated to be independent agencies and allocate resources based on the severity of the crime, not the quantity of articles in the media.”

The Shai District Police responded, “Without relating at all to the content of your inquiry, we are not in the habit of commenting on intelligence-gathering issues.”