The watchdog examining a Justice Ministry investigation into the beating of two Palestinians by Israeli police in East Jerusalem two years ago said the probe was marred by “serious flaws.”
The Justice Ministry's police misconduct unit delayed investigating the complaints for nearly two years, failed to question witnesses and closed the case on the grounds of insufficient evidence, the ombudsman, retired Judge David Rosen, found.
The beatings occurred in November 2019 in ongoing police operations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah. On the night in question, neighborhood resident Adam Masri asked a police officer to move a police cruiser from Masri's parking spot.
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“He [the officer] told me, ‘I’ll park where I want to,’” Masri later said.
“I said to him, ‘We’re not in a closed military zone.’ He said to me in a whisper, “I’ll park in your mother’s [expletive] if I want to.’ I said to him, ‘Take back what you just said,’ and then he punched me while shouting ‘Don’t raise your hand at me,’ even though I hadn’t raised my hand at all,” Masri recounted.
After that, according to Masri’s testimony, which is supported by video footage of the incident, several policemen attacked him. “They handcuffed me and kept punching me. I lost consciousness, threw up and then began to recover. They sprayed me with pepper spray and I again fell down. I couldn’t manage to stand up any longer,” 38-year-old Masri said.
“They put me in the cruiser, but the story didn’t end there. They abused me inside the car, forced me to lie down and cursed me. I asked for help from one of the policemen. I said to him, ‘I’m in pain and I need help. I can't breathe because of the [pepper spray].’ At that point, he pulls out the spray and gives me another little squirt, saying, ‘Now, you’ll feel better.’ After that, he handcuffed me from behind very tightly, so my blood flow would be cut off.”
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Masri required medical treatment and was taken to a hospital.
At the time of his arrest, Masri’s wallet, which had contained more than 2,000 shekels (about $630), disappeared, he later claimed. On the evening of the incident, police also allegedly beat Masri’s uncle, Mohammed Abu Hummus, a leading Palestinian activist in East Jerusalem, who also required medical treatment.
Several days after the incident, Tal Hassin, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, filed a complaint with the Justice Ministry’s police misconduct unit on behalf of Masri and his uncle.
The case was completed within four months, and was then transferred to the prosecutor to decide whether to file criminal charges against the officer. Almost a year later, it was decided that the investigation required more work. The material from the expanded probe was handed over to the prosecutor for a second time six months later. Six weeks on, the cases was closed, leading to the complaint by Hassin to the ombudsman.
In a letter to Hassin this week, Rosen wrote it was "impossible to countenance a delay of almost a year to transfer a file and complete an investigation," especially in a "blatant case of violence” and that witnesses "were never questioned."
The head of the police misconduct unit, Keren Bar-Menachem apologized for the incorrect communications with Hassin and the delays in the investigation. Sources at the unit said that Masri’s case had been closed because the explanations provided by the police officers – and supported by videos – did not give rise to suspicion of criminal violations.
In response, the police misconduct unit said it “regrets the manner in which this case was handled, including how various responses were provided and the time it took from the investigation of the case until the decision was made.”
The unit vowed to prevent a repeat of the incident, but said the delay did not violate directives from the attorney general. It also noted that the department established a system to reduce the time it takes to handle cases and also set up a hotline for complaint from the public in the last year.