Police officers in the Jerusalem area have been illegally strip searching minors, according to information obtained by the legal aid clinic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The clinic received three such complaints from minors who claimed that the police stripped them of their clothing immediately after their arrest.
In one case, a male resident of Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem, was arrested last month on suspicion of drug use, and the arresting officer said that he would have to be searched. “Two more policemen arrived, grabbed him, held him against the wall, and forcefully pulled down his pants and his underpants,” a letter to the police from attorney Shiran Riechenberg and Hebrew University’s street law program director, stated.
In a second complaint obtained by the clinic, police are accused of removing a young man’s clothing during a raid of a group of young people in a forest near Beit Shemesh. The young man was released, issued a summons to report for questioning and fined 1,000 shekels ($300).
In a third case, an ultra-Orthodox resident of Jerusalem reported that while in a vehicle with a friend, he was stopped by a police officer who aggressively searched the vehicle but didn’t find anything. The policeman then demanded that the young man undress in the middle of the street, but he refused.
“The policeman placed him in a police cruiser against his will, while his friend was not taken by the policeman or searched,” according to the report of the incident. “At around 2:30 A.M., at the police station [in Jerusalem], the policeman put the young man in the restroom, shut off his [body] camera and threatened him. Then another policeman arrived and together they stripped him by force."
There was also an incident in September where the police arrested and strip searched illustrator and artist Zeev Engelmayer while attending a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposite the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Engelmayer was dressed in costume as a naked woman, Shoshke, a female character that he has portrayed for years.
Left-wing demonstrators who have been arrested at protests in recent years have provided similar accounts of conduct on the part of the police, but it appears to be random in such cases and dependent on the individual decision of the police investigator.
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Riechberg, of Hebrew University law school, noted that the law gives police officers wide discretion during an arrest to body search, should they feel any reasonable suspicion that the suspect has a concealed weapon. However, the officer must first obtain the suspect’s consent and, in the case of a minor, the consent of a legal guardian, and that consent must be documented.
The law also requires police officers to treat the suspects respectfully, especially when dealing with minors. “The police don’t have the authority to conduct a search that could humiliate, frighten or undermine the confidence of minors,” Riechenberg wrote.
“Is stripping a young man in front of his friends in the middle of a forest or in a cruiser without a clear reason that has been outlined, lawful? Does suspicion of a crime, however reasonable it may be, justify searching a minor’s car and demanding that he undress in a humiliating fashion in public?” she asked.
“Is dragging him to a police station in the middle of the night and forcibly searching him in a restroom stall, while threatening and humiliating him, respectful and fair procedure?” she asked rhetorically. She added that it appears that police strip searches of minors are much more prevalent than the number of complaints that the clinic obtained.
The police said in response to this article that they “use all of the tools at their disposal within the confines of the law to treat [suspects] with professionalism and sensitivity, that they fully respect the rights of suspects in general and minors in particular.”
The police acknowledged receiving Riechenberg’s letter and added that it would be answered directly and not via the media.