Palestinians may not avail themselves of an online police complaint filing system introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, effectively rendering it more difficult for Palestinians to file complaints on alleged hate crimes or any crime in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control.
The online system, implemented to minimize crowding at police stations during the pandemic, is part of the Israeli gov.il network, and is therefore only open to those with Israeli identity numbers or credit cards.
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An Israeli NGO, Yesh Din, asked legal advisors at the police's Judea and Samaria District, which is responsible for the West Bank, to let Palestinians file complaints online, especially in light of movement restrictions and lockdowns imposed by the Palestinian Authority.
According to Yesh Din's legal adviser, Attorney Michael Sfard, they originally agreed that as long as restrictions are in place, Palestinians could submit their complaints in writing through their lawyers. But when Yesh Din tried to ascertain the status of complaints that had been filed, they were told that in the vast majority of instances no investigation had been opened because no report had been taken from the complainant.
It was then that the Judea and Samaria District lawyers suggested that Palestinians file their complaints online. But when they tried to do so, they found the system to be inaccessible to them.
The police denied any agreement was ever reached with Yesh Din.
“The police are derelict in their duty when they don’t allow Palestinians to file online complaints the way it allows those who hold Israeli documents,” attorneys Michal Ziv of Yesh Din and Roni Pelli of Association for Civil Rights in Israel said. “It’s their obligation to enforce the law and enforce it equitably. If they don’t allow information about crimes to get to them, then they are effectively conveying to the Palestinians that they have no protection and to the settlers that they can do as they please without being brought to justice.”
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Over the years, many Palestinians have stopped bothering to file complaints to the police because of the difficulties in doing so even during routine times, as well as due to their disappointment with the police response. Very often, when Haaretz contacts police to find out if they are investigating a violent incident against Palestinians, the reporter is told that first the victim must file a complaint.
In a letter sent by the ACRI and Yesh Din to Police Commissioner Koby Shabtai, the two rights organizations cited instances in which Palestinians encountered difficulties when they tried to file a complaint or even enter a police station.
In one of the incidents, last June, a resident of Khan Al Ahmar arrived to the entrance of Ma’aleh Adumim to complain about an attack by settlers, but the guards at the entrance refused to let him in and so he never filed a complaint.
In another incident on January 13, two Palestinians came to the Binyamin police station to file a complaint that their cars had been vandalized and torched. The police said there was no point in their coming in that evening to file a complaint because no Arabic-speaking police officer was available. When they came in the next day, they waited five hours, and one of them ultimately gave up, never filing a complaint.
The police said: “Filing an online complaint is a service given on the government website and as such is accessible to citizens of the State of Israel who are able to identify themselves using an identity number, a credit card number and a passport. Contrary to what is claimed, the police in the Judea and Samaria District never reached such agreement, but we note that every complaint received by the police is examined and evaluated accordingly.”
In January, Haaretz reported that Israeli defense officials are concerned about the rise in settler violence, noting that there were 370 incidents of settler violence in the West Bank last year. Of these, most targeted Palestinians, 206 of the incidents defined as “nationalist crimes” – assaults, vandalism and stone-throwing targeting Palestinians. Around a third of the total – 120 incidents – involved physical violence, either against Palestinians or against soldiers and police.