Analysis

Israel Police's Culture of Violence Highlighted by Video of Officer Attacking Palestinian

Israel Police's handling of the video's aftermath confirms that the officer's colleagues were committed to a conspiracy of silence, and not to the greater public.

Police officer caught on video attacking Palestinian truck driver.
Screenshot/Twitter

The last 16 seconds  of the video that shows police officer Moshe Cohen assaulting truck driver Mazen Shweiki, proves beyond a doubt that violence is still part of the organizational culture of the Israel Police, and as opposed to what Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said after the incident, this is not a rare occurrence.

For one minute and 49 seconds Cohen, a member of the police's special patrol unit that functions in part as the riot police and special operations unit, can be seen attacking Shweiki and others in the area in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem. For the first minute and 33 seconds of the video clip, Cohen is shown without any other police officers around while he curses, head butts and hits Shweiki and others who tried to help him.

For ordinary citizens, this is a rare opportunity to view police violence in its worst and crudest way. The violence, as seen in the film, was so outrageous that everyone rushed to condemn the acts and Cohen immediately: Alsheich, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Knesset members Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and Ahmad Tibi (Joint List). No one remained unmoved.

They all called to bring the police officer to justice and Alsheich immediately summoned him for a hearing, after which Cohen was suspended. Alsheich sent out a message on the matter to the entire police force in which he wrote: "This is an exceptional incident that has no place in the Israel Police."

But one minute and 33 seconds after the video begins, something happens that shows that as opposed to what the police claim, Cohen works in an organization where violence against civilians has become routine, acceptable. In those last 16 seconds a few of his colleagues from the unit enter the picture and see him acting violently, kicking Shweiki in the back and knocking him to the ground, bleeding from his head.

And what do those policemen do? They stand there and prevent the others from interfering. It may be only a few seconds, but in those seconds not a single police officer can be seen trying to stop their colleague from going crazy, or helping Shweiki, who is lying on the road.

The police spokesperson's office said the officer was suspended immediately when the video was received. "He will be summoned for a hearing to consider the continuation of his service in the police."

The police's announcement confirms that Cohen's colleagues were obligated to this conspiracy of silence, and not to the public. None of those present during the attack filled out a report in which they noted that Shweiki was harshly beaten, or called their commanders and informed them of the incident. They stood there and prevented the people in the vicinity from interfering with Cohen and preventing him from continuing his attack.

This conspiracy of silence remains strong, certainly at a time when Alsheich allows himself to take the stage in front of his police force and says he does not have "peace of mind" about anonymous complaints against them.  

If the Justice Ministry's department for investigating police officers wants to deal with the problem, they must show a bit more responsibility than what Erdan, Smotrich, Alsheich and the others showed, and not just make do with an investigation against Cohen only. The Justice Ministry investigators must also summon Cohen's colleagues who were present and did not report on the incident.

The last 16 seconds of the video show that violence is still deeply rooted within the police, and the only thing that can save us from this violence and false arrests for attacking police officers is if someone in the vicinity has enough courage to film what is going on.