Judge Orders IDF to Reveal Protocol for Arresting Jews Who Attack Palestinians

Ruling comes in case charging border policemen with ignoring alleged stabbing attempt by settler.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Israeli soldiers stand alongside settlers from the Maon Farm outpost in the West Bank.
Israeli soldiers stand alongside settlers from the Maon Farm outpost in the West Bank. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

A court has ordered the Israel Defense Forces to reveal its protocol for arresting Jews suspected of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank.

The ruling was issued as part of a damage suit filed against the state by a Palestinian assault victim. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court gave the IDF until next week to comply.

The suit was filed by Mahmoud Awad, 38, a resident of the West Bank village of Tuba. Awad says that in March 2011, a masked man tried to stab him to death and then fled in the direction of Havat Maon, an illegal settlement outpost located nearby. Awad was stabbed in the hand and chest, and an Israeli doctor diagnosed him as having suffered a permanent 10-percent disability.

Awad sued the state for negligence because, according to a police report, border policemen were stationed in a jeep nearby at the time of the assault and saw a masked man fleeing past them. So even if they didn’t see the stabbing, argued Awad’s lawyer, Eitay Mack, their seeing a masked man running but making no move to detain him constitutes negligence.

Moreover, the lawsuit said, the stabbing was reported to the IDF on the morning it occurred, and trackers were sent to the scene. The trackers found a stocking cap along the route the assailant took when he fled, as well as fresh footprints leading to Havat Maon. Yet the police and soldiers didn’t search the outpost’s houses or question any of the residents. While police did check the DNA found on the stocking cap against that of a few outpost residents who were on file, they made no other efforts to solve the case, the suit claimed.

“There’s no doubt that had this been a case of a Palestinian assailant who attacked an Israeli and fled into a Palestinian town, the law enforcement agencies would have left no stone unturned in that town, and would also have tried to prevent the incident and/or arrest the assailant on the spot,” Mack wrote.

Instead, the police investigation was eventually closed on the grounds that the assailant’s identity was unknown.

Thus at a hearing this week, Mack asked Judge Einat Avman-Muller to order the IDF to disclose whether it even has a protocol for arresting Jews suspected of attacking Palestinians, and if so, what that protocol entails.

The state’s attorney, Uri Sirota, opposed the request, charging that the plaintiff had no evidence to prove his claim of state negligence, and Mack was therefore going on a “fishing expedition.”

The state has denied that the border policemen ever saw the assailant, basing itself on the testimony of a border policeman who said that while they were present, they didn’t see anyone flee. Moreover, Sirota argued, “There’s no certain knowledge that the stabber was Israeli.”

Mack, Sirota charged, was simply trying “to turn the hearing on this case into a kind of commission of inquiry into the [state’s] conduct in the West Bank and its enforcement of the law against Israelis in the territories,” a kind of “general hearing on the state’s ‘overall responsibility’ for violent incidents against Palestinians in the territories.”

But Mack countered that the IDF’s protocols are relevant to the negligence question, given the history of Jewish violence against Palestinians in the vicinity of Havat Maon. Though Sirota denied that there was any such history, Mack argued in the original lawsuit that this history is plainly well-known to the state, since otherwise, IDF soldiers would not have been ordered to provide a daily escort for Palestinian children going from Tuba to their school in nearby A-Tawani.

Avman-Muller ultimately agreed that the IDF’s arrest protocol was relevant and ordered the army to produce it by next week. She also ordered it to provide a list of all cases involving “disturbances of the peace” by Israelis from 2007-2011. Mack had requested this information because police classified the attack as a disturbance of the peace rather than an attempted murder.

Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have long charged that the army and police do little to prevent assaults on Palestinians by Jews or to find and indict the perpetrators. According to the Yesh Din organization, of 938 investigations opened into such attacks from 2005-2013, only 8.5 percent ended in indictments. Moreover, 84 percent of the cases on which a final decision has been made were closed because police either couldn’t identify the perpetrators or couldn’t gather enough evidence to indict them.

In one case in which an indictment was filed, involving settlers who attacked Israeli activists from the Ta’ayush organization near Havat Maon in September 2012, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Yaron Mientkavich wrote scathingly about the army’s conduct.

“The soldiers didn’t demand that the defendants remove their masks or identify themselves, despite the fact that the [Ta’ayush] activists told them they had been attacked by them,” he wrote. “Even when the defendants brandished cudgels at the activists and made threatening statements to them, the soldiers didn’t see fit to do anything, not even to demand that the defendants show their faces and identify themselves.”

In the first eight months of 2014, there have been 228 attacks on West Bank Palestinians by settlers, an average of about seven a week. There were 399 such attacks in 2013.

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