Palestinian Falsely Accused as Terrorist Goes to Cops, Is Charged With Stone-throwing

Sam Araj, 20, went to police after media reports accused him of role in Be'er Sheva attack. He was then indicted for rioting near a West Bank checkpoint.

Sam Araj in Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, November 2015.
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A Palestinian from East Jerusalem, who contacted police on his own accord after learning of media coverage that mistakenly fingered him as one of the terrorists behind the October Be’er Sheva central bus station attack, has found himself charged with a number of serious security-related offenses unrelated to the Be’er Sheva case. 

After initial questioning, police charged Sam Araj. a 20-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem's Shoafat refugee camp, with aggravated hindering of a police officer in the course of his duty, rioting and stone-throwing. He was arrested and, according to the Jerusalem prosecutor’s office, admitted guilt to the charges against him. 

The indictment against Araj, which was filed in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on November 8, about 20 days after his arrest, alleges that on October 10, about a week prior to the Be’er Sheva bus station attack, several dozen young Palestinians rioted and threw stones at police in the vicinity of the police checkpoint at the Shoafat refugee camp.  According to the indictment, a masked Araj was among the rioters and threw six stones at the police from a distance of about 100 meters (about 300 feet). 

For his part, Araj’s lawyer, Mufid Alaj, told Haaretz that even after an intensive 20-day investigation by security officials revealed that he had not been involved in the Be’er Sheva terrorist attack, the police continued to hold Araj in custody as a suspect, as if he had to prove his innocence, contrary to the legal principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. 

Sam Araj’s mother, Kifah, told Haaretz that any allegations against her son appear ridiculous, and if he admitted to the accusations, she believes that he had been subjected to extreme pressure to do so. “Sam is far from all those things, and at the beginning of the month, he was due to go to Germany to study and to join a German soccer team. Now that entire dream has been dashed.” 

Sam, she said, had played in the past on the Beitar Jerusalem youth soccer team, but left due to the hatred and racism expressed by some of the fans.

A short time after the Be’er Sheva terrorist attack, she said, friends and acquaintances of her son began gathering near her family’s home and a journalist told them that her son had carried out the attack. She then spoke to her son, whom she said was totally surprised. 

“I asked him to write [a post] on Facebook to dispel the rumor but it didn’t help. We were very worried and then decided that he and his father would contact the police of their own initiative and that’s what happened. The police asked him to come to the Qalandiyah checkpoint and from there they picked him up and said they would question him for a few hours,” she recounted. 

“Close to midnight, the identity of the person who carried out the terrorist attack became clear and we were sure that he would be released then, but things just got more complicated. He was transferred for questioning by the Shin Bet [security service] and we didn’t have any idea what was happening to him. It was only ten days later that they told us he was suspected of throwing stones and a few days after that, he was indicted. I don’t understand how a contact that he voluntarily made with the police out of intense fear and as a consequence of a mistaken [news] report could result in a security-related arrest and an indictment,” she said.

The prosecutor’s office didn’t comment directly on the fact that Araj came forward on his own to contact the police, but did say that the indictment was filed after a review of the evidence in the case and based on Araj’s own confession. The police and the border police declined to comment. 

Sam Araj’s case was raised in the Knesset by Meretz MK Esawi Freige, who also approached Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to look into the conduct of the police in the matter. “It’s been more than a month that Araj has been in detention,” the Meretz legislator wrote. “This is seriously affecting his athletic development, including his plans to study at the University of Dortmund in Germany as an outstanding athlete. In addition, as a role model for young people, his arrest conveys a difficult message of injustice to many young people who are witness [to his case]. Every day that he remains in detention makes the situation worse.”