State Will Not Indict Policemen Over Arab Deaths in 2000 Riots

Knesset panel to discuss decision; Justice Min. says lacks evidence to indict policemen involved in shootings.

The Knesset Interior Committee will convene in the coming days to discuss the Justice Ministry's internal affairs investigation unit Sunday decision not to file any indictment against policemen involved in the killing of 12 Israeli Arab citizens and a Palestinian during the October 2000 riots.

The Justice Ministry investigators said they did not have sufficient evidence to indict any of the police officers. In some cases, investigators were unable to locate the police officers involved in the riots. In other instances, they were unable to determine which police officer was responsible for the gunfire that killed the rioters.

The decision drew staunch criticism from the victims' families and all across the political spectrum.

Justice Ministry official Herzl Shviro, who headed the investigation, said work was made more difficult because families had refused to allow autopsies.

Sources at the internal investigations unit named several factors hampered the investigation procedure.

Investigation teams did not reach the scenes in real time and did not attempt to collect evidence shortly thereafter as the fierce violence at the riots would have endangered the investigators had they attempted to collect evidence and testimonies.

The sources also said that a considerable portion of the evidence had been destroyed or removed from the scene before investigators got there. In addition, policemen who were to undergo questioning were constantly changing their location according to security needs, and therefore it was impossible to collect their testimonies in real time.

Two of the cases the investigators closed were those of police commanders Alik Ron and Moshe Waldman, accused of issuing directives to snipers to open fire on stone-throwing protesters in several instances.

In the case of another top police official, Guy Reif, the police investigations unit decided that Reif was allowed to fire at the rioters' lower bodies and that his shots, including the ones that apparently killed civilians, may have been justified. In contrast, the Orr Commission found that Reif could have prevented clashes with the rioters and that he used live fire without justification, causing the deaths of two civilians and wounding others.

After discovering he would not be placed on trial, Reif said he felt "some sort of relief" but thinks justice for the families of those killed has not been served.

"Even if some youths rioted, it doesn't mean they should die. The fact that so many officers shot, and eventually denied that they used live fire, should signal a red light for the police and its investigations unit. I'm the only one that admitted to shooting, but I maintain that I didn't kill anyone. Both the families and the police need to reach the truth and to know who shot," Reif said.

Victims' families hold protest After finding out the results of the inquiry, the families of the riot victims began holding a protest at Jerusalem's Beit Agron, where a press conference is planned. MK Azmi Bishara (Balad) said he would consider calling widespread protests.

In each of the cases there were major gaps between the conclusions of the Orr Commission, which investigated the riots, and the information the internal affairs investigators discovered, they said.

The announcement was made along with representatives of the families of those killed and came at an Adala meeting in Nazareth.

On Saturday MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al) and the head of the Islamic Movement's northern wing, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, announced that they may file a complaint with international courts against the police officers they deem responsible for the killing of Israeli Arab protesters during the 2000 riots, should the Justice Ministry decide not to try them.