Palestinian Freed After Car Accident at Checkpoint Deemed Not Act of Terror

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The Bitounia checkpoint near Ramallah.
The Bitounia checkpoint near Ramallah.Credit: Amira Hass

In an exceptional step, a Jerusalem judge decided on Friday night to release a young Palestinian from East Jerusalem, who was detained on suspicion of attempting a car-ramming attack, after investigators saw footage of the incident from security cameras.

His release came despite the fact that earlier in the day, a police representative said the cameras did not record the events, which took place at the Bitounia checkpoint near Ramallah.

On Thursday Sanad Shouman, a student from Beit Hanina who works part-time transporting goods from the territories to Israel, passed through the checkpoint with his vehicle. During the examination he accidentally ran over a security guard’s foot. The guard was lightly wounded and ordered Shouman to stop. When he failed to do so, the guard fired at the vehicle. At least two bullets hit the car but did not hit Shouman, who was detained by the police.

Shortly afterward the Israel Defense Forces clarified that it was an accident rather than a terror attack. Nevertheless, the police continued to hold Shouman.

The following day he was brought before Judge Shmuel Herbst in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, and the police requested that his detention be extended by another five days. The judge was also shown a “secret report” in order to reinforce the suspicions that had arisen.

During the proceedings on Friday morning, attorney Abed Darwasheh, who is representing Shouman on behalf of the Jerusalem Public Defender’s Office, asked the police representative whether the incident had been recorded by security cameras at the checkpoint.

“There are cameras at the site, [but] I know that the camera was not focused during the incident,” she replied.

Darwasheh informed the court that he intended to ask a representative from his office to go to the checkpoint to check the cameras.

Meanwhile, Judge Herbst partially acceded to the police's request and extended Shouman’s detention by three days, stating that “there is a reasonable suspicion of the crimes attributed to the respondent.”

Shouman was sent back to detention in Jerusalem's Russian Compound, but in the afternoon the police contacted Darwasheh and told him that a video clip from the checkpoint's security camera had been found, and that it supported his client's story.

Shouman was cleared of all suspicions but despite that, the Shin Bet security services refused to release him without a judge’s ruling. Thus it was that on Friday at 9 P.M., Avital Chen, the president of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, received the parties in his home and conducted a short discussion, at the end of which he ordered Shouman’s release from detention. He was freed an hour later.

“The truth is that I admire the conduct of the police. They could have come to court on Sunday and said that there was no evidence, and released him,” says Darwasheh. “But I hope that there will be an investigation of the shooting. It’s a miracle that [Shouman] arrived at the court on his own two feet – bullets passed through the vehicle although even according to their version of events, the security guard’s life was not in danger.”

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