Outgoing Israeli Commissioner: ‘Police Will Solve Arson Murders of West Bank Family’

Bentzi Sau tells Haaretz that Jewish vandalism of Palestinian property had dropped 72 percent in the past three years, says that Temple Mount is in its quietest period in recent years.

Acting Israel Police commissioner Bentzi Sau in Tel Aviv.
Ofer Vaknin

Acting Police commissioner Bentzi Sau said Tuesday he was highly confident that July’s arson murders of three members of the Dawabsheh family in the West Bank will be solved, telling Haaretz that the case was a very high priority for police.

The acting commissioner, who will retire this week after 36 years on the force, added that the police had been working intensively over the past year to prevent Jewish terror. For the first time, Jews suspected of involvement in so-called “price-tag” actions against Arabs were being held in administrative detention, he noted.

Sau added that Jewish vandalism of Palestinian property had dropped 72 percent in the past three years.

Sau was speaking to Haaretz during a tour of East Jerusalem and Hagai Street in the Old City of Jerusalem, a flashpoint in the current wave of terror.

On Thursday a ceremony will mark the entrance of the new police commissioner, Roni Alsheich. Speaking about his feelings on being passed over for the job of police commissioner, Sau said: “I’m not the type to sit and agonize over why I wasn’t chosen. From my point of view there are very few officers who have the privilege of commanding this organization, these police, and I had the privilege. I’m not a person with an ego, otherwise I would have announced my retirement immediately on the selection of the new chief. If I had been appointed I could have led the police, commanded it and brought it to a good level, but I have no doubt that Roni Alsheich will know how to do it.” The police will support their new commander, he added.

Sau has denied reports that the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki at the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem in August was what led to the selection of a new commissioner from outside the force.

At Damascus Gate, Sau met officers from the Tel Aviv district who had come to reinforce police presence in Jerusalem. “We understand that the Temple Mount is from our perspective the source of unrest,” he said. “Therefore we decided to isolate the Temple Mount from anyone who could set off incidents with potential for violence and tension. The decision to prevent MKs from coming to the Temple Mount required courage and we knew we’d draw a lot of criticism but it proved itself as a move that restored quiet to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is in its quietest period in recent years.”

During the tour, Jerusalem district police chief Maj. Gen. Moshe Edry arrived at Damascus Gate and told Sau that 80 to 100 more closed-circuit cameras are still needed to cover the Old City. Sau said, “We have created a clear distinction between those involved in terror and those not. I think that the public in East Jerusalem realized very quickly that those who stay away from terror and disturbances return very quickly to normal life,” adding that police had “created pressure” on those involved in violence and “used means that we did not use in the past.”

Those involved in violence, he continued, “understand that the rules have changed, and we see that the wave of terror in Jerusalem has been significantly halted.” At the height of the terror in the capital there were 55 roadblocks in East Jerusalem, Sau said, and now there are only six permanent ones and six that are at times cleared away.

As Sau spoke to merchants on Hagai Street, one of them complained that metal detectors installed on the street deter tourists, pointing to a woman going through one nearby. “We want to bring normalcy to the Old City but that will happen only when there is security,” Sau told the merchant. “If there are stabbings and violence the tourists also won’t come. We won’t remove the metal detectors now because women also come with knives and stab people. This is our way to check in a respectful manner.”

On Sau’s watch as acting commissioner, police dealt with high-profile cases of corruption in the public sector. Sau said he believed that the work the police were doing against corruption would deter others. “I can attest that at least during my term as acting commissioner there was no attempt by politicians to influence ongoing investigations,” he said.

The outgoing police chief said the mass crackdown on organized crime earlier this year had its effect, but “we can already identify signs of new groups of criminals trying to get into the places left by the key figures in the affair.” Organized crime was making major efforts to infiltrate government institutions “and some have managed to make inroads into local government,” he noted.