The commander of the Border Police, Major General David Tzur, suspended all operations for two hours yesterday to enable officers to review regulations with their troops regarding the treatment of Palestinian civilians. Tzur also ordered the force's 4,000 troops to attend lectures on civil rights and how to treat civilians.
The decision followed the arrest this week of 12 border policemen for allegedly beating and robbing Palestinians. Nine of the 12 border policemen, who serve in the seam area between Israel and the West Bank, were arrested over the course of the past week though the arrests were reported only yesterday, and three were arrested Tuesday.
The arrests stemmed from four complaints to the Justice Ministry's police investigation division charging the nine with beating the Palestinians and robbing them of their cell phones and cash instead of arresting them. The alleged beatings occured while the border policemen were conducting operations in the Wadi Ara region to apprehend Palestinians who are in the country illegally.
The Justice Ministry said that most of the nine have admitted to the allegations, and are currently under house arrest. The other three were indicted yesterday in the Jerusalem District Court for allegedly abusing Palestinians while on patrol in the Har Adar area about a month ago. The three - Itai Breyer, Lior Kalavaris and Arik Zeldaty - are being charged with aggravated assault, abusing a minor and obstructing justice.
According to the indictment, the three picked up two Palestinians, age 17 and 18, while on patrol and took them to an isolated woods. They then beat the youths all over their bodies, using both their fists and a club. At one point, one of the defendants allegedly stuffed sand and pebbles into one of the Palestinians' mouths and dumped pudding over his head. Another defendant allegedly stuck his shoe into the second Palestinian's mouth and ordered him to bite it.
The court remanded Zeldaty until the end of the trial, and postponed a decision until today on whether to remand the other two because they were not represented by a lawyer.
Police Spokesman Gil Kleiman said that the indictment of the three and the allegations against the other nine were "in no way indicative of the day-to-day actions of border policemen in their contact with Palestinian civilians."
But Herzl Shviro, head of the Justice Ministry's police investigations department, told Israel Radio that the criteria for choosing border policemen should be reexamined.
"Our behavior in this conflict is as important a weapon as weapons themselves are," Shviro said. "If we use it correctly, it will be to our benefit. If we don't, it will be damaging. We need to invest time and effort in reducing this phenomenon."
Residents of Baka al-Garbiyeh, located in the Wadi Ara region, said that they were not surprised by the allegations.
"The only thing I'm surprised by is that they got around to dealing with this only now," said Mohammed Muasi, one of the few residents who agreed to be quoted by name. "It's been going on for years."
Nevertheless, Muasi said, there have been relatively few incidents of abuse in the town over the last year. He said the most humiliating incident he could recall is when border policemen made a group of Palestinians chant a Hebrew rhyme, "Chickpeas, beans, chickpeas, beans, I love the Border Police."
In another case, he said, they beat a youth with developmental disabilities who failed to understand that they wanted him to show his identity card.
Another resident said that border policemen, unlike soldiers, cover up for each other, making it harder bring such cases to justice.