Hours after a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City that occurred 10 days ago, the Israel police released a video of the incident without blurring the faces of the officers involved, one of whom has since been identified and threatened by Palestinians.
After the attack, police arrested a guard working for the Waqf Muslim religious trust at the Temple Mount. The guard, Amer Salfiti, filmed police forces at the Mount on a different occasion. It is believed that this video helped identify the officer whose face was shown in the clip released by the police.
Salfiti was arrested even though he had not made any threats and had not edited or disseminated the earlier video. The police accuse Salfiti of conspiracy to commit a crime, threats and membership in a terrorist organization.
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Incident filmed in the video released by the police occurred on August 15, showing a knifing attack carried out by two Palestinian youths at the entrance to Temple Mount. One policeman was moderately injured and the two Palestinians were shot in the incident. One of the Palestinians was killed and the other was seriously wounded.
A few hours later, the police released the footage from a surveillance camera that showed the entire incident. In a break from unusual procedure, the video was released without blurring the faces of those involved.
Two days later, one of the officers took part in a raid on the eastern end of the Temple Mount. The area became a point of contention between Israel and the Waqf six months ago after the Muslim religious trust opened a structure on its own there despite an injunction ordering its closure. Since then, the structure has been operating as a mosque.
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Israeli police forces raided the area and confiscated placards and other items. Salfiti, a young Palestinian employed by the Waqf as a guard and who was present during the raid, was instructed to use his phone to film the police entering the area, which he did. The video depicts the police leaving, with one of them even joking with Salfiti.
Salfii gave the video to his superiors at the Waqf, and they apparently posted it on social media. Over the following few days, members of the public made the connection betweeen the two videos and identified the officer.
Shortly thereafter, the officer began receiving threats, including calls for his murder. A state prosecutor who was in court at a hearing on extending Salfiti’s detention said that the policeman is facing the highest level of threat, requiring changes in his routine and extra protection.
The video was posted with a red circle over the police officer's head, the prosecutor said, along with a call to avenge the death of the Palestinian killed in the stabbing attack -- by killing the policeman. It was picked up by websites from Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
The prosecutor told the court that, as a rule, the police and army never show videos without blurring faces. If this was done in error, it will be investigated, she added. The state also submitted a classified report about Salfiti to the court. Salfiti’s detention has already been extended twice, and an appeal challenging his detention was denied by the Jerusalem District Court.
Salfiti’s attorney, Hamzeh Qutteineh, said the police blame Salfiti for the threats against the officer even though his client made no threats himself and did not post the video, only videotaping forces as he does every day.
“Claiming that he was the one who exposed the officer’s face is wrong. There is another video from another incident that led to these threats, which the police themselves released,” Qutteineh told the district court.
“Go arrest the person responsible for that. Instead, they arrested a Waqf guard who videotaped another incident and who did nothing illegal,” Qutteineh added.
Qutteineh also told the court that the video was filmed in a public space, that his client did not threaten anyone and has therefore not committed a crime. The lawyer called allegations that his client was a member of a terrorist organization after his video was posted by terrorist groups an "unacceptable assumption."
In her opinion, District Court Judge Haya Zandberg wrote that “after looking at the classified report and the evidence, I rule that there are reasonable grounds for the detention. His lawyer’s arguments may carry weight at a later stage, but at this point, there is a reasonable suspicion based on the material.”
For their part, the police said the issue should be sorted out in court. “We would stress that the magistrate’s court has twice acceded to our request to extend his detention due to suspicions related to him.”