Dozens of Criminal Cases Closed Due to Israel Police Negligence in West Bank

Complaints by settlers, Palestinians are handled with equal incompetence.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

The police's Shai District, which is responsible for the West Bank, consistently fails to conduct even the most basic investigatory actions, such as taking fingerprints, checking alibis, questioning witnesses and conducting identification line-ups. As a result, case after case - against settlers and Palestinians alike - is either closed without going to trial or thrown out of court, Haaretz has found.

In March 2008, for instance, the security coordinator of the settlement of Maon complained to the police that a Palestinian whom he knew personally had punched him in the face. Shimon Abelman said his assailant was named "Nasser," but police arrested a man named Saliman al-Adra. Three and a half years later - last week, to be precise - al-Adra was acquitted after a judge discovered that police had never even attempted to make sure they had the right man: At no point was Abelman ever called in to identify the suspect as his assailant.

Israel police. Credit: Moti Kimche

In another recent case, Mustafa Oudeh of Walaja was arrested on suspicion of shoving a border policeman off a cliff and causing him to break his leg. As evidence, police submitted footage confiscated from the camera of a foreign volunteer who was present at the scene. But it turned out police didn't bother viewing the footage before submitting it as evidence - and when the judge viewed it during Oudeh's remand hearing, he discovered that it actually showed Oudeh flat on his back, and the border policeman pushing him until both fell down the cliff.

In March, Yifat Alkoby of Kiryat Arba was acquitted of assaulting a Palestinian when it turned out that instead of asking the victim to pick his assailant out of a line-up, police had simply ordered a child to point to a picture of Alkoby and identify her as the culprit.

And last month, a Palestinian construction worker charged with beating his employer with a hammer and leaving him permanently disabled was acquitted of attempted murder because police didn't bother checking all the hammers at the site to find the one with bloodstains and then take fingerprints from it: Instead, they simply labeled a random hammer as the assault weapon, without doing any laboratory tests to show that it was in fact the weapon used.

But at least the above cases made it to court. Most cases don't: They are closed due to "lack of evidence" or "unknown perpetrator," because police don't take the minimal steps necessary to collect evidence or locate the perpetrator.

In December 2010, for instance, Ibrahim and Fouad Nawajah were beaten with a drumstick south of Hebron, after which the assailants fled toward the nearby settlement of Sussia. Police found the drumstick at the scene, but didn't bother to check it for fingerprints. Instead, they asked the Nawajahs to examine some photographs of possible suspects. Ibrahim said one was indeed one of his assailants. But the policeman told him, "He's from Jerusalem, not from Sussia," and closed the case, without even bothering to question the suspect.

Then there was the Palestinian who saw a settler shoot two of his cows. The assailant wasn't masked, so the Palestinian was able to finger a suspect. Spent cartridges found at the scene matched the suspect's gun, and the suspect himself told police he "dislikes Arabs" and "educates them." Yet the case was closed due to "insufficient evidence."

In one egregious case, in July 2005, a security guard patrolling the separation fence near Beit Likiya shot and killed a 15-year-old Palestinian. A witness saw the shooting, but police never questioned him. They also failed to obtain a court order barring the suspect from leaving the country - with the result that he fled overseas, beyond the reach of the law.

And sometimes, the police's conduct is simply farcical - as when two Jewish minors were arrested last week for sneaking into Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, which is off-limits to Israelis except for specially arranged group visits. Their parents came to the Ariel police station and signed the necessary forms to get the boys released. But the station's fax machine was broken, and police insisted the boys couldn't be freed until it was fixed, so the forms could be faxed to the proper location. It took a lawyer's intervention to persuade them that the boys shouldn't be kept in jail until the fax was repaired.

The Shai District was set up as an independent district in 1995 with the goal of improving law enforcement in the territories. The new unit was given funding to hire extra manpower, and is now supposed to have 1,050 policemen.

In reality, however, it has only 920, because despite a risk bonus that can reach NIS 2,000 a month, many policemen don't want to serve there. Moreover, those that do are rarely the cream of the crop: Not only are other districts reluctant to release their best men, but many good officers don't want to serve in Shai because they consider the work boring, with too few "interesting" cases like murders and aggravated assault. In 2009, for instance, the Shai District handled 377 serious assault cases, compared to 2,406 in the Tel Aviv district. And while murders in other districts generally run to double digits, Shai has almost no nonterrorist murders (terrorist murders are handled primarily by the Shin Bet security service, not the police ).

The result is that Shai's creation has done little to improve law enforcement. Indeed, looking at the litany of cases that either never go to trial at all or are thrown out of court, it sometimes seems like the equivalent of having no police at all.

Still, there's one thing to be said in its favor: It doesn't discriminate. Complaints from settlers and Palestinians alike are all handled with equal incompetence.

The Shai District responded that it has a team of skilled investigators who go to every crime scene and collect evidence in a professional manner, using the most advanced technology in the police's possession. This has led to many indictments, and in fact, it claimed, Shai has the highest percentage of solved crimes of any district in the police.



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