The Justice Ministry unit in charge of probing police misconduct submitted indictments on Thursday against five Border Police officers for 14 instances of robbery and assault against Palestinian men entering Israel.
The officers are accused of taking thousands of shekels from these men and beating them, in some instances drawing blood.
They were also charged with breach of trust and obstructing an investigation. Some of the cases were even filmed by the officers. A senior source in law enforcement said that "they behaved like a gang of criminals in every sense of the term."
The officers were identified as Amit Edri, Tal Yosef Mizrahi, Uri Medina, Refael Hazan and Lidor Zafriri. The first four were said to be the main suspects and investigators are asking that they remain in custody for the duration of their trial. The fifth, Zafriri, could be conditionally released.
The indictment says Edri was the commander of the unit, and the ringleader of the acts of theft and violence. According to his attorney, he denies any robberies.
The investigations unit said the five of them would wait for Palestinian men near a hole in the security fence in the southern West Bank and then assault them and steal their money.
In one instance that occurred in July, Edri and another officer approached Palestinian men as they crossed through the fence, their faces masked to hide their identities, and ordered them to lie on the ground at gunpoint and empty their pockets. The victims were robbed of thousands of shekels and then beaten.
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In another instance that the police had filmed, Edri and another officer kicked a Palestinian man in the face until he bled. The indictment goes on to say that the victim took off his shirt because of the bleeding and the officer ordered him to strip off his pants as well and then ordered him to march to the nearest checkpoint.
In one case where a Palestinian man tried to flee, one of the accused grabbed him, slapped him and shouted, "You're running away you son of a bitch...you don't realize that we're crazy?" He took 1,400 shekels from the man while another officer kicked and slapped him. The investigations unit said they don't know the identities of all the victims though they have documentation of these cases.
The indictment says that in one instance three of the officers stopped Palestinian men as they came through a crossing. Edri approached one of them while wearing a mask, put a pistol to his head and ordered him to empty his pockets. Nine hundred shekels were stolen by three of the officers, who then ordered the victims to return to the fence "without looking back."
In another case documented on one of their cellphones, Mizrahi arrested a Palestinian man and smacked him 20 times on his back and shoulders with a wooden club while singing a Hebrew language version of "eenie meenie minie mo."
The Border Police said they have begun proceedings to end the suspects' military service. "We view the unlawful and extraordinary actions the conscripts have been accused of with severity," adding that "there is no room in our ranks for perpetrators of such actions, which totally contradict the values of their corps."
Attorney Adi Vallenerman from the police investigations unit said that "the accused perpetrated their crimes while dressed in police uniform and armed with police weapons. [They] exploited their status and the confidence given to them... to threaten their victims and force them to surrender to their demands."
She said that "the actions of these police officers show that they have no inhibitions or fear to perpetrate such horrible crimes under cover of their police duties."
The attorney said that the officers had worked via a system that aimed to camouflage their theft. "Some of the crimes were conducted with seriously cruel violence and the use of firearms. The evidence shows the group had also decided to continue their criminal activities by robbing Palestinians on other occasions as well, and to perpetrate worse violence so as to steal higher sums."
Attorney Idi Porat, who represents Edri, said "it appears this incident has been inflated disproportionately. My client denies committing any acts of robbery. I hope that he will soon be released after we receive the evidence."