Court Orders Palestinian Charged With Attempted Murder of Israeli Hikers in West Bank Freed

Military appeals court cites flaw in identification of suspect

Palestinian clash with Israeli forces in the village of Qusra, in the West Bank Dec. 1, 2017
Majdi Mohammed/AP

A Palestinian charged with attempted murder for allegedly throwing stones at a group of young hikers in the West Bank in November was ordered released from custody by an Israeli military appeals court Sunday. The judge cited serious flaws in the way police identified the defendant as the attacker.

In the November 30 incident, dozens of Palestinians surrounded and threw rocks at a group of 20 Israeli children and teenagers and two adults as they hiked near the village of Qusra.

According to the charge sheet, Mohammed Wadi took part in throwing rocks, entered a cave where the children were hiding and injured the groups security guard.

Prosecutors had requested that Wadi remain in custody for the duration of proceedings, while Wadi claimed that he was not the attacker and that the identification process was flawed.

While the lower military court did not accept Wadis claim, the appeals court, headed by Lt. Col. Ronen Atzmon, rejected the police identification of Wadi as the attacker.

Atzmon was highly critical of how the Judea and Samaria Police handled the investigation, saying, Unfortunately, during this investigation actions were taken that served to actually mislead the complainant and cause him to mistakenly identify [Wadi. The complainant] was shown just one picture whose background suggests [Wadi] was connected to the incident, and the complainant knew the man in the picture was already being held by the police.

Atzmon said he had looked at the pictures in the prosecutions file and could not identify Wadi in them, since the figure in the picture was partly in shadow and not all the facial features are visible. Nor could the color of the figures clothes be determined from the pictures, he said.

Atzmon added that although the face and head of the figure in the picture resembled Wadi, Had I not been told this was a picture of the appellant, I would not have said on my own initiative that the appellant appears in them.

Atzmon said the evidentiary basis in the case was flawed and the likelihood of a conviction uncertain. Its not clear how police determined that the appellant is the one in the pictures, he wrote.

Chayim Bleicher, a lawyer representing the complainants on behalf of the Honenu organization, said, The detainee was identified as one of the most dangerous attackers. Even if there are questions about the police investigation its inconceivable that someone should be released simply due to some esoteric questions raised by the judge.

The police said in response, The investigation of the incident at Qusra was accompanied from the start by the military prosecution, which recently filed charges against a large number of those involved in the incident. The investigation was conducted thoroughly and professionally by the police to arrive at the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice. All the investigative actions in the case were approved by the military prosecution, including the manner in which the suspect was identified in several photographs and videos, which under the circumstances was the only means of identification.

The courts decision not to detain the suspect until the end of the criminal proceedings against him does not indicate his innocence, the police noted.

During the incident at Qusra, one of the adults in the group, a reserve officer, shot and killed a Palestinian man. The army investigation found that the Palestinians had attacked the group before the shooting, while the Palestinians argued they had attacked in response to the shooting. The shooter is suspected of negligent homicide but police have said they plan to close the case.