How Israeli Cops Who Beat Bedouin in the Dark Went Free

Crowd-control officers were not put on trial despite evidence of a 2013 attack on protesters against the resettlement of Bedouin in the Negev.

Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org

The investigation into the beating of a father and his two sons at a demonstration against the Prawer plan for relocating Negev Bedouin ended after about a month because the names of the attackers had not been found out; the victims did not see the attackers’ faces in the dark and could not provide details to the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating the police. 

This is how the State Prosecutor’s Office has justified the closing of the case regarding the November 2013 attack on Taleb Alturi and his two sons Nidal and Ra’uf. 

The announcement on the closing of the case was made on December 10, 2014, but the file shows that the investigative work ended in late January that year, less than two months after the demonstration and the police filing. Although some of the evidence pointed to the involvement of members of the police’s Yasam crowd control unit, the file shows that Yasam commanders and rank-and-file members were not questioned at all.

In February 2015, attorney Eitay Mack and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed an appeal against the closure of the case. The committee’s participation was justified by the fact that police violence aimed to extract a confession from the Alturis for a crime they did not commit – throwing stones at police during a demonstration. On July 25, Mack received Deputy State Prosecutor Yehuda Shaffer’s decision to reject the appeal.

On November 30, 2013, the three Alturis from Rahat took part in a demonstration in the Bedouin town of Hura against the Prawer plan. The demonstration, which was licensed by the police, began at about 3:30 P.M. About an hour later, a number of people at the outskirts of the protest threw stones at the many police there.

Some demonstrators suspected that the stone-throwers were from the police unit in which officers disguise themselves as Arabs. The police declared the demonstration illegal, mounted police charged the crowd, and other police launched tear gas grenades. The demonstrators had difficulty fleeing because of the panic in the dense crowd, and because of the mounting violent clashes with the police.  

After about two hours, Alturi and his sons made it several hundred meters away and went into a cafe to recover. At about 7 P.M., when it was already dark, they headed for the town’s exit, where a family member was supposed to pick them up. 

According to the complaint and sworn statements by the three, a large group of police wearing riot gear appeared as they were waiting. The police lobbed a stun grenade and beat them, kicked them and hit them with batons. They dragged them along the ground, handcuffed them behind their backs with tight plastic restraints, jumped on them as they lay on the ground and kicked them in the face.

Under the cover of darkness

According to their statements, Nidal, who lay there handcuffed, was wounded in the back by a stun grenade or some other projectile. The police surrounded the father and one of them urinated on his face. He eventually lost consciousness.

Meanwhile, the police beat the two sons in the groin, and when the sons closed their legs tightly, the police spread them apart. Everything happened in the near dark, so the three could not make note of the faces.

During the attack Ra’uf lost a shoe, and when he was questioned his foot was wrapped in a plastic bag. The father says that when the three were taken to police cars in a well-lit place, he heard one policeman warning another that now “it’s not dark and everything is being photographed and documented.”

According to the statements, the police taunted the complainants with comments like “let’s put a bullet in their heads,” “cigarette smoke stinks less than he does,” “there has to be a transfer in Egypt they’d kill you,” “in a little while they’re going to screw you in prison, watch your ass,” and “you son of a bitch stinking Arab stone-thrower.” The three complained about the attack that day at the police station.

The father Taleb and his son Nidal were sent from the interrogation room to Be’er Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center, and with the doctors’ approval they were taken back for questioning and arrested on suspicion of participating in a disturbance. The three were released after about 30 hours in jail, when Judge Sara Haviv found no evidence for the suspicions against them and after Judge Yoel Eden rejected, on the same grounds, the police’s appeal against their release.

Faces in photographs

Less than two months after the demonstration, on January 28, 2014, the final act of investigation in the case was carried out. On that day the two policemen whose faces are visible in press photographs the family gave to the police were questioned. First Sgt. Itzik Turgeman of the Yoav unit, which deals with matters concerning Bedouin resettlement in the Negev, told investigator Batsheva Ella that he had seen three handcuffed men under arrest lying on the ground, surrounded by police.

He said that later police in Yasam uniforms and wearing helmets “like ours” asked him to take Ra’uf Alturi to a police vehicle. His colleague Raz Azoulay told the investigator that he himself did not make any arrests at the demonstration. Both were questioned on suspicion of using force during an arrest, which they denied. But from the outset no member of the Alturi family claimed they had attacked  them. 

On January 20, 2014, investigator Ella met with Ilan Peretz, deputy commander of the Negev District, who was in charge at the demonstration.   He referred her to the commander of the Yoav unit, Yossi Cohen, to identify the policemen in the photographs.

In her memo, investigator Ella wrote: “To my question as to how a situation developed in which suspects were arrested without there being an arrest report or any report in the investigation file [Peretz] replied that this was one of the issues that came up in the discussion of that operation and the drawing of conclusions from it.”

In the investigation file there are also memos by police officers Shmuel Zorzi and Simon Yoffe, to whom Taleb Alturi was handed over by Yasam police wearing helmets. The memos describe his injuries but the investigation file shows that Zorzi and Yoffe were not called in for questioning at the unit for investigating police, and no attempt was made to contact the officers who according to the testimony had made the arrest.

In the explanation of the rejection of the appeal against the closure of the case, Deputy State Prosecutor Shaffer wrote to attorney Mack: “Hundreds of police arrived at the scene in an attempt to control the disturbance. In light of the magnitude of the event and the chaos that prevailed at the scene, arrest and detention reports were not written for the appellants among others.”

According to Shaffer, “The matter was examined by the police and conclusions were drawn. Since the appellants were not able to provide any identifying details concerning the policemen who purportedly harmed them, it is not possible to identify those individuals or any of the other hundreds of police who were present at the scene with those who purportedly harmed the complainants . Due to the scope of the incident and the passage of time, significant difficulties have arisen in completing the investigation.”

Haaretz asked the State Prosecutor’s Office whether this sent a message to criminals that if their victims can’t give the police identifying details about them, investigations into their violent crimes will end just as easily. In his reply, spokesman Noam Sharvit repeated the deputy state attorney’s explanations and added: “At the demonstration (which became a disturbance), about 22 demonstrators were detained, more than 50 police were injured and a great deal of damage estimated in the hundreds of thousands of shekels was caused to police vehicles and infrastructure in Hura.”

According to Sharvit, “in the context of considering the appeal at the State Prosecutor’s Office, the evidence was re-examined. The complainants claim they fell victim to violence by a group of 10 to 15 policemen but did not have the possibility to identify the policemen who purportedly harmed them. Moreover, there is no visual documentation of the claimed attack.”