Israeli Police Want Palestinians to Pay for Their Own Security Escort to Court

Anyone caught entering Israel illegally via occupied territories would be forced to pay about 5,000 shekels to hire private firm for every court hearing.

Detainees being led into court (illustrative).
Olivier Fitoussi

The police are demanding that Palestinians caught entering Israel illegally pay thousands of shekels for private security firms to escort them to subsequent court hearings in Israel.

In 2015, Israel Police arrested some 4,300 people who entered Israel illegally via the occupied territories in order to seek work. In recent times, police representatives have been arriving at courtrooms immediately after an arrest with a prepared indictment – especially when this is not the first time the person has been apprehended.

At present, the detainees are immediately released back into the territories, on condition that they leave a monetary guarantee of several thousand shekels in order to obligate them to turn up for court hearings. Many detainees have raised the problem that as soon as they are transferred to the Palestinian Authority, they automatically lose their right to return to Israel. This is due to a Shin Bet security service decision, according to the accepted procedure in such cases, whereby the accused present themselves at an Israel Defense Forces coordination command center, from where they are taken to court by the police.

Recently, though, the police decided to cancel such escorts and are demanding that the accused turn to private security companies to provide a security escort, at their own expense.

The courts have begun canceling indictments in cases where the accused does not reach the courtroom due to the lack of a security escort.

Last month, Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Judge Hagai Tarsi canceled an indictment against a Palestinian man who, immediately upon being released at a checkpoint, requested an exit permit to attend his court hearing. The man understood that he is refused entry because of the Shin Bet decision, and could not attend court due to the prohibitive cost. The judge refused to wait and canceled the indictment, even though the man had been caught more than once.

Ramle Magistrate’s Court Judge Dr. Ami Kobo was more critical of the police when dealing with a Palestinian who failed to appear for a court appearance. When asked why the accused had not appeared, the police representative said: “I sent an email to the IDF coordination command and the reply I received yesterday was that the accused filed a request to enter and his request is still being processed by the Shin Bet. The accused’s entry was permitted subordinate to a security escort by a private security company or the police. The police do not usually send escorts. Our position is that he should use a security company in order to turn up.”

Following the police representative’s reply, the judge heard that the costs involved in using a private security escort were about 5,000 shekels ($1,350) per hearing.

The judge decided to immediately cancel the indictment. “I am of the opinion that demanding of an accused person who enters Israel illegally, seemingly in order to find work, to pay a security company – which will accompany him while in Israel to attend a court hearing – is an unreasonable demand under these circumstances,” Kobo wrote in his decision. “If such people had a reasonable amount of money that would allow for hiring a security company, it can be assumed the violation would not have taken place and they would not have entered Israel for work purposes.”

Security sources were surprised to learn that the police are suggesting this solution for such cases.

“If we’re talking about people the Shin Bet decided are prohibited from entering, how can it be that a private security company hired by the accused will secure him during the time he is in Tel Aviv or Petah Tikva?” asked one security source. “What is the security guard’s training? Where exactly will he drop [the accused] off – at the entrance to the courthouse and he’ll wait outside? How can we allow a security guard, who we don’t even know is trained, to escort an accused man that the Shin Bet says is problematic?”

A spokesperson for Israel Police defended their move, saying that “limiting the entry and demand for a security company is not of the police’s making, but rather of the other security bodies regularly involved in the procedure. Alongside this, we are in constant contact with all the bodies involved in the procedure, in order to examine appropriate alternatives in situations such as these.”