A Jerusalem District Court judge slammed police officers Thursday for trying to force a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem to confess that she tried to hit a police officer with her car at a roadblock in the city on Tuesday.
The court overturned a magistrate’s court ruling ordering Walaa Muawad, a 36-year-old mother of four, to remain in custody for a week, and released her to house arrest. Muawad was released Friday morning without charges after a final interview with police.
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In her ruling, Judge Tamar Bar-Asher wrote that the way Muawad’s statement was taken as well as footage from the body camera of an officer at the scene showed “a forceful attempt to put words in the appellant’s mouth saying the incident was … an attempt to run over an officer.”
The incident occurred Tuesday at a roadblock police had erected in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on account of the Flag March in and near the Old City that evening. Muawad was driving relatively fast as she approached the roadblock, and nearly hit a police officer before stopping her car. Officers at the scene thought she had tried to hit the officer.
Muawad later told Haaretz that she had reached the roadblock by accident, after making a wrong turn. “The policemen ran over and asked, ‘What just happened?’ I said I got confused and pressed the brake. They told me turn off the ignition and asked whether I had a knife and if I meant to commit a terror attack. One officer saw my son’s ID that I had with me and said, ‘The boy is cute, isn’t it a pity that you meant to carry out an attack?’ They told me I was under arrest and I started crying.”
Muawad was handcuffed and taken to a police station, where she was questioned by police detectives and Shin Bet security service agents. “They asked me which [terror] organization I belonged to, why I was listening to the Koran on radio and why I had a map of Palestine on my Facebook page. When I asked for something to eat, they told me the refrigerator was locked and they couldn’t find the key,” she related.
The police asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court last week to extend Muawad’s detention, on suspicion of attempted murder and terror offenses. The court complied, ordering her to remain in custody for an additional seven days. Muawad’s lawyer, Mohammad Mahmoud, appealed the decision to the Jerusalem District Court, which overturned the ruling and released Muawad to house arrest.
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When Bar-Asher asked to review the body camera footage from Muawad’s arrest, the police told her the cameras were only switched on afterward. The judge waited for police representatives to bring her footage from the body camera of one of the officers, taken a few minutes after the arrest.
In her verdict, Bar-Asher noted that she watched the video at least 10 times, relying on a court interpreter to translate exchanges in Arabic. “The video shows [Muawad] saying that she drove fast and suddenly there was a [female] police officer, she almost hit her. The [male] officer asked Muawad whether she didn’t manage to hit the officer and Muawad said yes,” the judge wrote.
Bar-Asher said she believed Muawad meant that she almost hit the officer, and not that she had meant to do so, adding that Muawad’s explanation in Arabic was clear. The judge added that Muawad had been driving to her son’s commencement ceremony and was confused by the roadblocks. She also noted that Muawad’s father was himself an Israeli police officer.
The judge wrote that while the speed with which Muawad approached the roadblock could have been interpreted as an attempt to hit the police officer, “after examining the evidence I do not believe it supports this suspicion and to my great regret, an attempt was made to lead [Muawad] to confess.”
Muawad was released to house arrest Thursday, questioned Friday at the Neveh Yaakov police station and released without charges.
Muawad’s lawyer said that his client’s case was representative of “many instances of young people who did not want to commit terror attacks, but police officers accused them of serious offenses.”