Lose the Evidence, Close the Case Twice: How a Palestinian's Complaint Was Handled

'Comedy of errors' by Israeli police in the West Bank reflects amateurishness at best, a human rights lawyer says

The settlement of El Matan in the West Bank.
Moti Milrod

The state admitted that the Israeli police mishandled a Palestinian’s complaint that a settlement’s road-building work in the West Bank damaged his land, but claimed too much time has elapsed to reopen the case.

The State prosecutors' response to the petition by the Palestinian, Ibrahim Rashid Ahmed Alam, showed that the police closed the case twice and that the case file was lost when it was passed from the police to the Military Police.

Alam complained to the police that nine olive trees had been destroyed and a large wheat field damaged at the village of Kafr Thulth in the West Bank. He said the road-building work also destroyed a large well that the construction workers intentionally filled with sand and rocks.

The security coordinator of the settlement of Ma’aleh Shomron in the West Bank took part in the destruction and tried to drive Alam off his own land, he added.

The police said this week they could not comment on a case still being heard in court.

The saga began in 2014 after an Israeli girl was hurt by a firebomb thrown near the settlement of El Matan, and the army began building a road to pass through Palestinian land in the area. The work commenced one evening at 10:30 P.M., and five hours later an order arrived for it to stop, but it continued.

According to the state, it isn’t clear whether the settlement’s security coordinator knew about the order. It said that by the next day he did know, but only halted construction after three more hours of work had been done.

In April 2016, the police closed the case, citing a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Alam appealed, and the police changed the reason for closing the case to “a different authority is empowered.”

The chief police investigator in the West Bank said the army should investigate the allegations. The case was then closed for a second time and subsequently moved to the Military Police, though the evidence never arrived.

In November 2017, Alam requested that the evidence be reviewed. In January and March 2018 he repeated his request and said he was told by the Military Police that no information was available on the case.

According to Alam, a police official told him his requests had been “thrown straight into the trash.” The state said the file had been lost after being transferred to the Military Police.

In 2016 military prosecutors said the case had been closed because there were no suspicions that a crime had been committed. In late 2017, after learning that the police had handed the case over to the army, Alam contacted the army again. Military prosecutors said a decision had been made to close the case without investigation.

Alam then petitioned the High Court of Justice in December 2018. The state said the police erred in closing the case.

A lawyer with the rights group Yesh Din representing Alam, Shlomi Zecharia, said the state’s response is an admission of the police’s failings. “When it comes to Palestinian complaints about harm to them and damage to their property, the police act amateurishly at best,” he said.

He also accused the authorities of tolerating violent and illegal behavior by settlements’ security coordinators, and blamed state prosecutors for dragging their feet.