Police Blasted for Holding Leftists in Jail, Despite Lack of Proof Dead Palestinian Was Murdered

Over two weeks after beginning of the investigation, court orders police to free Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia to house arrest, as police still haven't managed to discover the cause of death.

Ezra Nawi in court, Jerusalem, January 21, 2016.
Emil Salman

A Jerusalem court ordered police to release Israeli leftist activists Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia to house arrest on Sunday, severely criticizing investigators for not clarifying the circumstances surrounding the death of a Palestinian land dealer in which the two were allegedly involved, even though over two weeks have passed since the initial arrest.

The police have asked the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court for time to appeal the decision, and Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter allowed them two hours to file the appeal. 

The police investigation against Nawi and Butavia, which was sparked by a report on the investigative television program “Uvda,” found that about 18 months ago, Nawi disclosed information about a land swap between a Palestinian resident of the South Hebron Hills, referred to in court documents as Abu Khalil, and a settler referred to as Yonatan. The information was given to a relative of Abu Khalil’s who was liable to be harmed by the deal, but as far as is known, it was never given to the Palestinian Authority. Shortly thereafter, Abu Khalil died. 

Nawi was arrested over two weeks ago and Butavia was arrested last week. The charges the police have presented in court against Nawi include a number of offenses, including accessory to manslaughter, conspiracy in attempted murder in the deaths of Palestinians who sold land to Jews, contact with and passing information to a foreign agent, transporting an individual in Israel without a permit, conspiracy to commit a crime, possession of a knife or brass knuckles, and drug possession for personal use. The fraud charge was added to the list last week.

Over two weeks after the beginning of the investigation and Nawi's arrest, the police still haven't managed to discover the cause of death.

The judge said police have presented him with no further evidence to support the charges than what he was presented with at the hearing last week, and said that he was "especially irked" by the fact that there was no new information on the circumstances of the death, in which Nawi  is suspected of involvement. The judge said this missing information is significant and fundamental in the case, and without which a proper investigation cannot be conducted and the remand could not be extended.

The judge added that he doesn't think there is any real danger of obstruction of the investigation if the suspects are released to house arrest, and that they were not dangerous.

Nawi's lawyer, Attorney Eitan Peleg, blasted police and the state for conducting a "political" instead of a criminal investigation. "The investigation is an ongoing outrage The fact that the State of Israel cannot make sure if Abu Khalil died a natural death or if he died at all, is completely ridiculous. This is purposely done to prolong the investigation unnecessarily," he said.

On Sunday morning, the state responsed to a Supreme Court petition filed by a Palestinian suspect in a related case, B'Tselem employee Nasser Nawaja, who demanded to be released immediately from detainment. A judge ordered police to release Nawaja from a Jerusalem jail on Thursday, but police instead transferred him to detainment in an army jail in the West Bank. In its response to the petition, the state said that Nawaja's detainment is legal, and that there's no need for the Supreme Court's involvement since proceedings were already underway in a military court. A hearing regarding the police's request to keep Nawaja under arrest is scheduled for later on Sunday.