Two Social Activists Acquitted of Setting Tires Alight After Sloppy Police Probe

The case harks back to the social protests of 2011, but shoddy police and legal work have doomed the prosecution.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Tires burn on a road in Holon during a social protest, August 2011.
Tires burn on a road in Holon during a social protest, August 2011. Credit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

A court has acquitted two activists who allegedly set tires on fire on the highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in August 2011 during Israel’s massive social-justice protests. The judge cited failures in the investigation.

On Sunday, Judge Moshe Yoed Hacohen of the Jerusalem District Court criticized the work of both the prosecution and the police, ruling that their evidence was insufficient.

Hacohen said the police had conducted a “simple and basic investigation.” He said that if the prosecution had requested further evidence, “this could have led to a different outcome.”

The case is one of a number in which activists have seen their charges dropped or have been acquitted in court. The incident involved Barak Segal and Daniel Palenker, who were accused of igniting tires on Route 1 near Jerusalem early on August 16, 2011.

The state claimed that to avoid hitting the tires and the accused in the right lane, a vehicle moving at high speed veered suddenly to the left, almost hitting another car. Also, thick black smoke from the tires obscured drivers’ view, the prosecutors said.

They said the two men had intentionally endangered human life on a highway, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The suspects denied the charges and chose to remain silent both during questioning and in court.

The prosecution’s main evidence was a wiretap in which Segal and Palenker were allegedly heard implicating themselves. But the judge said it was not clear that the wiretap was legal. He said the prosecution had proved that the burning tires endangered human life, but not that Segal and Palenker had set them alight.

The commander of the Knesset guard for prominent officials, Shmulik Tzabari, happened to witness the incident and reported the license-plate numbers of cars parked nearby. Judge Yoed Hacohen noted that the police had not brought the recording of the call to the police emergency line.

Following up on Tzabari’s report, policewoman Noa Peleg contacted the owners of the cars parked on the highway, two of whom were parents of the accused. She asked where the cars had been that morning but did not note the full name of the police operator who had given her the information, or the time of the call.

The judge rejected the prosecution’s claim that Segal had incriminated himself. When Segal was questioned he was not asked about a license-plate number.

“A simple check of the police database could have led to the information that the car belonged to [Segal’s] father,” the judge wrote.

Also, Palenker was never asked about the fact that a license-plate number Tzabari gave was of a car belonging to his mother. The judge added that he did not understand why Tzabari was not asked to identify the suspects in a lineup.

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