Israel Police Clears Cops Who Planted Gun in Palestinian's Home for TV Show

Officers acted to serve the image of the entire organization, were not properly briefed, report says ■ Company that produced ‘Jerusalem District’ says it had no authority to tell the police what to do

Samer Sleiman files a complaint against the Israel Police, Jerusalem, August 7, 2019.
Emil Salman

Israel Police said Thursday that television production company Koda Communications was largely responsible for the planting of a rifle in the home of an East Jerusalem Palestinian in the documentary reality show “Jerusalem District,” not the officers in the program.

Last month, Israeli public broadcaster Kan removed all episodes of the show from its website and YouTube after Haaretz reported that officers had planted the gun. Kan also cut ties with Koda.

“To the best of their understanding, the police officers acted to serve the image of the entire organization and had not been properly briefed on the necessary restrictions,” the police said in a summary of their investigation.

>> Read more: By planting gun for reality TV, Israel Police reveal truth about East Jerusalem ■ Why Israeli police are terrorizing this Palestinian village

None of the officers involved or members of the police spokesman’s office did anything resembling criminal wrongdoing, the police said.

Koda, however, said it was not surprising that the police produced a report absolving its people. “All of a sudden, the police saw nothing, heard nothing and said nothing,” the production company said.

The claim that the production team could “initiate events” was baseless, Koda said, adding that the production team had no authority to dictate how the police should carry out their duties.

The production team worked with the police based on guidelines set in a contract, and based on rules dictated by the police, Koda said.

“The only interest of the production was to document the diligent work in the field that the police carry out,” the company said. “We roundly reject any suggestion to the contrary.”

The two policemen who featured most prominently in the series, Assaf Ovadia and Erez Hazan, are still on the force. The Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct has not yet decided whether to launch an investigation and has not summoned anyone for questioning.

During filming last November, the police planted an M16 rifle in the home of Samer Sleiman, a resident of East Jerusalem’s Isawiyah neighborhood. The police later sent him a report stating that “nothing was seized.”

Sleiman, who did not know that a television show was being filmed, was never arrested or questioned about the rifle. He later filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit. In recent days his lawyer was informed that consideration of the case was still in its initial stages.

The police say they found deficiencies at the headquarters level regarding the handling of the show. “In the absence of a briefing, the professional advice and support provided to the police officers led them to understand that they were allowed to cooperate in the production and filming of scenes that were not genuine on the understanding that at the viewing stage, impermissible footage would be censored,” the report said.

According to the report, in the filming, no police official acted as a liaison with the production company. Instead, "the management of police-related aspects of the production" was left to Koda, whose interests were different from the police’s, the report added.

The police said limits for differentiating reality from illustration and a reconstruction of events were not clearly defined.

After the controversy about the planted rifle erupted, the police said the raid had been launched based on intelligence. When no gun was found, a member of the production crew suggested that an officer plant a rifle in the basement of the house, the police said.

Ram Landes, the founder and CEO of Koda, apologized and said his company had sought to tell the story of “humane, sensitive and tough” police officers in a “powerful and emotional way” but “got carried away.” Still, in a letter to Kan threatening a lawsuit, Koda suggested that Sleiman enjoyed the publicity.

On Thursday, the law firm representing Sleiman, ABY, called the police report “an outrageous, disappointing attempt to shirk all responsibility for the wanton conduct seen in ... the staging of events.”

It said the report “raises a worrying picture of irregularities and utter lawlessness in the police force, while the decision-makers are private producers motivated by ratings.”

The attorneys added that the Sleimans would not rest until they received “appropriate compensation” from the police “and the others responsible, including the Koda Communications company.”