Remarks by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan indicate that there were significant holes in the police investigation that led prosecutors to accuse Breaking the Silence’s spokesman of being a liar – an investigation that state prosecutors have since reopened.
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In response to a parliamentary question, Erdan said a policeman who is not a native Arabic speaker questioned Hassan Julani, the Palestinian who was the key witness in an investigation of Dean Issacharoff, spokesman for the anti-occupation Israeli army veterans’ group.
Erdan also confirmed that at the end of Julani’s questioning, the Palestinian signed a document in Hebrew, even though he does not read Hebrew, and that no recording was made of the questioning session.
The high-profile case arose from a video that surfaced in which Issacharoff was heard saying that during his army service, he had beaten a Palestinian. An investigation was opened into the matter and Julani was summoned for questioning in September on the belief that he was the Palestinian whom Issacharoff claimed to have beaten. Police later said Julani denied being beaten.
Issacharoff has since said that the person whom he had assaulted was not Julani but another Palestinian, Faisal al-Natsheh. Breaking the Silence has demanded that law enforcement officials acknowledge that they made a mistake.
Police decided Julani was the man Issacharoff said he had beaten after they judged that the circumstances of Julani’s arrest were consistent with what Issacharoff described. After Julani denied being assaulted by Issacharoff, the case was closed on the grounds that Issacharoff had supposedly lied about the incident. When it became apparent that Julani’s case and the beating that Issacharoff claimed to have committed were two separate incidents, the prosecutor’s office opened a new investigation of the matter.
Julani spoke to Haaretz on November 18, during the same week the initial investigation was closed. His account conflicted with the police version that he had not been hit. The article on the interview was published by Haaretz on November 21.
Response elicited by Meretz MK's query
Erdan’s response to the parliamentary question was submitted on December 18, a week before the case was reopened. The question was submitted by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg. Erdan’s written response only reached her on December 27. “From the totality of the evidence, it appears that the incident described by the suspect [Issacharoff] is only consistent with one incident in which a Palestinian by the name of Hassan Julani was arrested in February 2014,” Erdan replied.
In speaking to Haaretz, Julani said that at the time of his arrest, border policemen hit him with their hands and with rifle butts, pushed him into a wall and, even though he had his hands up, pushed him to the ground face-first and shackled him. He also said that he gave this account to police who questioned him, although the police and prosecutor’s office said he had denied being hit when questioned.
In his response to Zandberg, Erdan reiterated that Julani had not been beaten and confirmed that the questioning of Julani had not been recorded.
“It should be made clear that the law does not require the recording of testimony of a victim of a crime in every case and every crime,” Erdan wrote. Addressing the fact that the official who questioned Julani was not a native Arabic speaker, Erdan said: “By law, the requirement of a native speaker relates only to suspects and not to witnesses.” Erdan also claimed that Julani speaks Hebrew well, although in his interview with Haaretz, the Palestinian gave the impression that his Hebrew was rudimentary.
Erdan called the investigation “routine,” saying it arose out of a stone-throwing incident and was one of at least 13 stone-throwing cases investigated by Israeli police in the West Bank that month, most of which were handled in the same manner. There are no relevant photos or videos in the case, Erdan wrote, and “since Julani had not asserted any claim, either at the time of the incident or now, that he had been hit, he was not asked who the security force member was who hit him.”
Commenting to Haaretz on Erdan’s response, Zandberg said: “The casualness with which Erdan related to the questioning of Julani is amazing, to say the least, particularly in light of the haste in which the case was handled and the diligence of the police spokesman’s office and the prosecution in issuing ‘conclusions’ that it later turned out were irrelevant and inaccurate.
“It is inconceivable in 2018 that questioning would be conducted without it being documented, certainly not when it is a case that has [attracted the attention] of an entire country,” Zandberg said. She added that it “increases the suspicion that this entire case has been handled with one goal in mind, and that is to harm the credibility of Breaking the Silence.”
The Justice Ministry did not respond at the time to an inquiry from Haaretz on the questioning of Julani, how it was documented and the inconsistencies between the accounts. Zandberg submitted her parliamentary question to Erdan to address these issues.