Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the police to refrain from investigating criminal charges against Border Police personnel for actions in the West Bank, and to transfer such investigations to the military police. The order, details of which Haaretz obtained, was signed in November 2017 but has not yet been implemented pending “groundwork” by enforcement agencies.
The procedure has so far been for National Police Headquarters to assign investigations of criminal charges brought by Palestinians residents of the West Bank against Border Police personnel to the Judea and Samaria District police. This policy meant that the police was in most cases investigating itself. This is not the case within the pre-1967 border, where a department in the Justice Ministry investigates alleged police misconduct.
The Border Police is officially the border security branch of the National Police force. However, its personnel are often deployed to assist the army as well as to carry out law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The State Prosecutor’s Office wrote last month in response to a complaint against the Border Police that the prime minister had decided on November 23 to reassign that specific investigation to the investigative branch of the military police. The letter was sent to attorney Itay Mack, who is representing Nadal Shafiq Taher Shatiya, a Palestinian photographer for the Chinese News Agency, who filed a complaint against Border Police members for illegally firing a gas grenade at him. Attorney Yonatan Rada, assistant to State Prosecutor Shay Nitzan, explained in the letter that in light of the new directive, the military police would be investigating the case.
However, Ofir Steiner, an IDF prosecutor, informed Mack in a letter that “a clarification was undertaken from which it emerged that IDF forces were not involved in the incident, but rather Border Police personnel.” Thus, Steiner wrote, the investigation would be transferred to the Justice Ministry department investigating complaints against the police. Such a move would contradict the prime minister’s November 23 directive.
Law enforcement officials said that the military prosecutor who wrote Mack had not related to the new procedure because the groundwork to institute it had not been completed, hence the confusion. According to the officials, the procedure will remain unchanged for now but in Shatiya’s case there is a chance that he might be questioned by the Justice Ministry's police-investigations unit.
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The Justice Ministry unit, Mack told Haaretz, “doesn’t want to deal with the territories, so in fact it’s the Judea and Samaria District [of the police] that investigates the police themselves. They’ve been saying all the time that the matter is being dealt with, that it should move ahead, but in fact this didn’t happen. The Justice Ministry unit keeps saying they don’t have the authority. The problem is that nobody want to take these cases. Not the Justice Ministry unit, not the police and not the military police investigations unit.”
According to Mack, the procedure has “created a complete mess.” In some cases, he says, “a probe is started by military police investigators if there are soldiers involved and two years later they say it wasn’t soldiers but police, and they move the case [to the police]. What can the police do two years after an incident? That’s the way to whitewash incidents,” he said.
Mack says the military police should be the designated investigating body, as was decided. “The Border Police personnel in the territories belong to a separate unit. The commander of the Border Police is a military commander. There are no incidents that involve only Border Police members, it’s usually a combined force. Even if Border Police personnel are the ones who actually fired, the order was from the IDF.”
In 2015, the Turkel Committee recommended that such cases be dealt with by the investigative unit of the military police, to avoid the damaging appearance of the police investigating themselves. The Justice Ministry unit had not been involved in investigations of Border Police actions since the unit was established in 1992, although senior figures in the state prosecution believed that it should have done so.