Israeli Police in West Bank Close Cases of Offenses Against Palestinians Without Investigating

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Stones thrown at a Palestinian home in Burin.
Stones thrown at a Palestinian home in Burin.Credit: Yesh Din

The Israel Police force in the West Bank closes investigations into complaints by Palestinians of violence committed against them by Israelis, even in the face of solid evidence. A review of case files shows that the police often invest only minimal effort in the investigations, resulting in a failure to prosecute even violent offenses.

In one case examined by the human rights organization Yesh Din, the Judea and Samaria District Police closed an investigation of an attack by Jewish settlers on a Palestinian home, even though Israeli soldiers witnessed the incident and it was recorded on video. In another instance, the police closed an investigation into the attempted kidnapping of a Palestinian child without checking security cameras at the scene. Another time, the police closed a case against Israeli teens who sprayed a Palestinian with pepper spray, even though the teens’ claim of self-defense was contradicted by statements by soldiers who were witnesses as well as a physical examination of the victim.

In August 2014, stones were thrown at the home of Bilal Eid, a Palestinian resident of Burin. The house stands apart from other homes in the village, and is about 900 meters from the Givat Ronen outpost. Three Jewish minors smashed flood lights near the home and, according to Eid’s police complaint, tried to break in. Video obtained by Yesh Din showed the lights being broken, the faces of the attackers and a number of soldiers standing near the perpetrators. Nevertheless, the investigation was closed; the police never watched the video.

Stones thrown at a Palestinian home in Burin.Credit: Yesh Din/Haaretz

“I tried to watch the flash drive the complainant attached to the file to check if we could identify the suspects in the incident,” read an investigation memo. We couldn’t watch it.”

According to investigation paperwork, the police requested a replacement flash drive a year after the original complaint was submitted, but Eid said he did not have another copy of the video. The police asked army officers in Samaria to check if the army had documentation of the incident. There was a report that “settlers messed with the electricity poles,” but searches did not turn up anything. The case was closed.

Haaretz had no problem watching the video, which clearly shows settlers sabotaging the home’s light poles. Soldiers are seen standing next to them without trying to stop them. Yesh Din filed an appeal in September against the closing of the investigation, a ruling on which is pending.

“An investigator cannot write something like this and throw the flash drive into the trash,” a senior officer who once served in the Judea and Samaria District told Haaretz. “He can’t run the investigation any way he wants to. It is much more complex and supervised,” said the senior officer, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Indeed, the case of Bilal Eid is not the only one in which the police handling of claims of violence against Palestinians raised question marks. In December 2014, for example, a Palestinian man, whose name remains confidential, complained that some Israelis had tried to snatch his son through the open window of his car, while he stopped next to a grocer in Hawara. The man described in his complaint in detail the car in which the attackers drove — a red Subaru Justy with a license number ending in 03.

According to an appeal by Yesh Din, the complainant said there were security cameras in the area, and that a man named Karem was an eyewitness to the incident. However, the investigation files show that the cameras were never checked, and the eyewitness was never called in. Police closed the case, and an appeal was filed in August 2015.

The complainant’s lawyer, Michal Pasovsky, called the police’s attention to an interesting coincidence in a letter she sent two weeks after filing the appeal. An indictment filed against an Israeli for torching a Palestinian-owned car and painting graffiti indicated that he was the owner of the red Subaru Justy with the license plate ending in 03. While the car’s owner was acquitted, Pasovsky suggested it was worth checking out the coincidence.

“Closing and opening a case doesn’t sound so good,” said a retired senior officer. “At the same time, you have to see what the reasons are.” He stressed that the fact that the complainant did not cooperate with the police is no good reason to close the case. “We don’t need cooperation,” he said. “The moment he filed a complaint, it’s all over from our perspective. You don’t need his cooperation anymore.”

Even when police did make some effort to investigate, cases were often closed for reasons that appeared unjustifiable. In January 2015, for instance, a Palestinian man complained of being beaten and sprayed with pepper spray near his home in Hebron by 14 Jewish teenagers. When he shouted for soldiers at a nearby checkpoint to come help, the teens fled toward the Tel Rumeida neighborhood, he said.

The soldiers spotted the teens at the checkpoint and arrested two, one of whom was carrying pepper spray. The teen said he had used it in self-defense, but the soldier who arrested the boys told the police he saw no signs of injury on them and that the two had coordinated their stories while he was standing there listening.

When questioned by police, one of the teens reiterated that he used the spray in self-defense and the other denied any connection to the incident. But the Palestinian identified both boys as his assailants. Moreover, while the boys showed no signs of injury, a policeman noted that the Palestinian had bruises on his arm and upper body; that his left eye was swollen shut, apparently due to repeated rubbing after being hit by the pepper spray; and that he smelled strongly of the spray.

Yet two months later, the complainant was questioned again — this time, as the suspect in an assault. And in May of that year, both cases were closed without charges being filed.

In March, Haaretz reported that of 89 assault complaints filed by Palestinians against Israelis in 2015, only four, or 4.5 percent, resulted in indictments.

The police responded by saying that "investigation of complaints on the issue of politically motivated crime is carried out professionally, and the police invest great effort in discovering evidence and establishing an evidentiary infrastructure. In the past year, dozens of indictments were filed, and the police works and will continue to work to catch the criminals and bring them to justice."          

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