Under Questioning, Police Officer Denies Injuring Israeli Arab Activist

Police chief slams 'totally illegitimate and extremely violent protest' in Haifa at which activist Jafar Farah was injured, as Justice Ministry investigators launch probe of suspects

Jafar Farah, head of the Mossawa Advocacy Center, at home after being injured during a protest in Haifa against Israel's policies in Gaza, May 21, 2018.
Rami Shllush

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department on Tuesday interrogated the officer suspected of injuring Israeli Arab civil rights activist Jafar Farah, at a demonstration last week in Haifa against Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip. The officer was questioned under caution - as someone who might be charged with a crime. According to a police source, the officer, a patrolman, denied using any force against Farah, head of the Mossawa Advocacy Center.

Farah claims that after he was arrested at the protest, last Friday, the police officer attacked him in the presence of some 18 other demonstrators and broke a knee bone. Farah had been filmed while walking that evening at the demonstration but was later hospitalized, arriving the next day for a hearing at the Haifa District Court on crutches.

On Tuesday the rights activist said he gave the PID the name of the officer who attacked him, even though “he did not have a name tag, but they called him by his name all the time. He is the one who hit me, I gave his name and where it happened.”

Said Farah, “The police officer knocked me to the ground and handcuffed me with force. It was all very fast, a few seconds. He told me to get up and I couldn’t. He pulled me by the coat and took me to the bathroom [where] another policeman searched me ... After the bathroom they threw me on the floor again. I told the policemen it hurt, they tried to calm me down. They let me sit on a chair only when my lawyer arrived.”

On Tuesday Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich spoke about the demonstration in Haifa, declaring that it was “totally illegitimate and extremely violent.” He added that he had even heard Israeli Arabs saying they were “ashamed” by the protesters. In any event, the police chief added, “Police officers need to obey the law.” He noted that an investigation is ongoing about the incident and that the police would treat the findings seriously and take action if needed.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the police force, also mentioned the incident on Tuesday.

“Police officers are required to show restraint even when they are sometimes the targets not only of curses but also actual physical violence,” said Erdan, at a ceremony inaugurating a new police unit. Even at protests such as the one in Haifa where, according to Erdan, demonstrators were expressing support for terror organizations and condemning soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, “These are the standards expected of the Israel Police.”

Earlier, the European Union had condemned Israel’s crackdown on the Arab demonstrators, and called for “a swift investigation into circumstances surrounding events last week in Haifa which appeared to result in serious injury of Jafar Farah.”

Farah said that on Tuesday, “an investigator from the [police investigatory unit] came and asked for my signature on a medical confidentiality waiver. I assume they have already received the information from the [hospitals where he was treated]. We will give them [the unit] a chance.”

Meanwhile, staff at the Haifa headquarters of the PID questioned other officers who had been with Farah after his arrest. They denied that they had injured him. One of the officers, from the special police patrol unit, claimed that he had not used any force against Farah and suggested that the rights activist had been injured during the demonstration itself, and added that, “No one hurt him or raised a hand against him.”

According to attorney Avi Amar, who is representing that officer, “All the facts that have been gathered to date show that there was no attack by police officers and that the injury was most likely caused during the demonstration itself. It is impossible to turn the tables on the police when it was Farah himself was the one that was involved in an illegitimate protest.”

Farah’s wife, Asmahan Farah Atwan, ripped into the police, telling Haaretz, “This was a political arrest. They broke his leg but not his dream – a people’s right to live in dignity. His leg will mend. But those who broke it will pay a heavy price. The [officer] and others who beat children under arrest will be dealt with legally – each will face a civil suit.”

Hundreds of people attended another demonstration, on Sunday night in the German Colony neighborhood of Haifa, against the killing of demonstrators in Gaza and the arrest of protesters on Friday. Among those present were the head of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh and party MK Aida Touma-Suleiman.

At the same time, a few dozen people demonstrated at another rally, under the banner “Returning Haifa to Israel,” where they displayed Israeli flags and sang the national anthem.