A shortage of translators is seriously damaging Military Police investigations into complaints by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers, human rights organization Yesh Din said yesterday.
In a letter to the officer monitoring such investigations, Yesh Din said complainants often travel far for prearranged meetings with investigators, only to find that the meetings have been canceled because no interpreter could be found.
"On one occasion, we waited nearly five hours with a complainant invited to the Hebron District Coordination Office because the investigators couldn't find an interpreter," Mohand Anati, a Yesh Din field researcher, told Haaretz.
"They were going through the entire brigade, looking for an Arabic-speaking soldier, and they were really trying hard, but they couldn't find anyone. I guess the problem is somewhere higher in the hierarchy.
"They invite people to testify over and over again, and then it turns out there's no one to interpret. The complainants are making a huge effort to arrive, taking a day off work and going through all the checkpoints. And then the meeting is canceled. Some people feel it's intentional."
Palestinians usually make their initial complaints by phone, often through the services of Yesh Din. If the Israel Defense Forces launches a Military Police investigation, the complainants are summoned to give testimony to the investigators.
Yesh Din lists 10 cases in which an investigation was interrupted due to a shortage of translators, including suspicions of grave offenses such as soldiers firing toward minors and physically assaulting Palestinians.
"The army, as the occupying force, is obligated not only to ensure order and security for all residents of the West Bank, but also to investigate criminal offenses by soldiers against Palestinians," said Emily Schaeffer, who approached the monitoring officer on behalf of Yesh Din. "This obligation is violated when they fail to provide interpreters."
The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response that Military Police bases have Arabic-speaking investigators, and if there is a shortage of such investigators, officers from district coordination offices help out.
"Recently, there have been a number of cases in which the Military Police encountered difficulties in finding an interpreter for the investigation. This is not a change of policy but a temporary shortage of manpower," the spokesman's office said in a statement.