Stripped, Beaten, Tasered: Complaints by Palestinians Reveal Jerusalem Police Brutality

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Israeli police officers stand guard outside the Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem, December.
Israeli police officers stand guard outside the Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem, December. Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A 16-year-old stripped and beaten in a public washroom, a 60-year-old woman handcuffed and dragged across the floor, a female journalist subjected to sexist comments during an interrogation, a youth attacked in a city center, and another one dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, falsely identified as someone else, his family members beaten. All of this can be found in six complaints filed in recent months at the unit for investigating police misconduct at the Justice Ministry, copies of which have reached Haaretz. Following several complaints of serious violent behavior towards Palestinians, only one indictment was filed against a policeman. The Jerusalem police response: “This is a distorted and one-sided picture which does not reflect the truth.”

An attack in a washroom

H., a 16-year-old Palestinian youth, was sitting two months ago on steps at the plaza outside Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, drinking tea. He was then surprised by policemen, he says. “He wasn’t feeling well, and then someone came from behind and told him not to move, they were policemen,” describes his father. “He didn’t understand what was happening. He was handcuffed and taken to a public bathroom.” According to the youth’s testimony, the policemen attacked him for about 40 minutes. Among other things, they demanded that he strip, before stretching him out on his stomach on the floor, beating and kicking him all over his body.

This abuse was described in a complaint filed with the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police misconduct by attorney Nadia Dakka from the HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, a human rights group which protects Palestinians. “H. says he felt threatened at that point, with the policemen yelling at him and hitting him in the face,” says Dakka. “Under the threats, blows and screaming, H. tried to take off his shirt, and the policemen insisted that he take off his pants too, yelling at him: ‘Take off your clothes, you son of a whore.’ When he didn’t, they took off his pants and boxer shorts,” says Dakka.

H., a 16-year-old Palestinian youth who was beat up by Jerusalem police.Credit: Emil Salman

According to the complaint, H. was completely naked when the policemen stretched him out on the bathroom floor, hitting him while he was handcuffed. One of them even yelled at him, threatening that he would "fuck him." H. received blows, punches and kicks all over his body, later bleeding from his nose with wounds to his face. H. said that one of the policemen kicked him in the testicles. Afterwards, the policemen washed his face forcibly under a tap. “They told him they didn’t want people to see his bloody face,” says the complaint. They took off his handcuffs so he could get dressed, handcuffed him again and took him to a police van while forcing him to raise his arms and lower his head, says the complaint.

H.’s father says that only when they emerged from the bathroom did they ask him for his ID card. The youth said that one of the policemen said: “He’s only 16, that doesn’t suit us. We need someone who’s 19.” He said that when a Palestinian passerby asked for his name while he was being taken to the van, he too was arrested. They met later in the van. H. was detained for 24 hours, during which he was taken to a hospital for medical treatment.

H. says he was not given any food while he was detained. During his questioning he was not asked about specific acts he had allegedly committed or presented with any evidence. The next day he was brought before a judge and was released under house arrest with police consent. No legal proceeding followed this and no indictment was filed against him. Following the incident, he suffered swelling, hemorrhages, cuts and bruises, and from emotional trauma. “You look at him today and it’s not the same person,” says his father. “He stopped studying and grew thinner, you see the tears in his eyes. He tells me that he thinks everyone he sees in the street may be an undercover cop who might hurt him.” The Justice Ministry unit says that his complaint was filed and will be treated according to regular procedure.

An arrest in the middle of the night

Since the clashes that took place during Operation Guardian of the Walls, the round of fighting in Gaza last May, many complaints of police violence have reached the unit investigating police misconduct. One of them relates to an incident that took place a month ago, at 2:30 in the morning. A police force consisting of 20 officers broke into the home of the Abu Hummus family in the neighborhood of Issawiya in East Jerusalem. “They didn’t knock, they broke down the door. My daughter heard something and told them she’d open the door, but they told her to move away, breaking the door and entering. My son Mohammed [18-years-old] was sleeping. One of them approached his bed, lifted him by his clothes and put a bag over his head, handcuffed him and took him away,” explains the father of the family, Rabah Abu Hummus. “My daughter tried to take pictures and then they pounced on us, one of them with a taser, beating us and our children.”

The son testified about the incident to a B’Tselem investigator. In his testimony he said that once outside, “they made me sit on my knees, with one of them pressing my head down. Then they took me to the police car where my brother Khader was already sitting. I knew it was him because he told them he wanted an ambulance, since he wasn’t feeling well.” Mohammed was taken to the police station at the Russian Compound, where he was questioned for five hours on suspicion of firing a weapon and throwing stones.

Mohammed Abu Hummus from the neighborhood of Issawiya, in East Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

Mohammed Abu Hummus had never been arrested before and he denied all allegations. The interrogation continued the next day, during which someone he didn’t recognize entered the room. “They said that he was the one who had testified against me. I asked him: do you know me to testify against me? What did I do to you to make you bring me here? He told me he didn’t know me, that he didn’t mean me [when he had talked to the police], that there was someone else named Mohammed Abu Hummus that he had testified against,” said Abu Hummus.

Abu Hummus is one of the larger families in Issawiya. The father, Rabah, believes that there are 50 people called Mohammed Abu Hummus in the neighborhood. “After they heard this, they put me back in solitary confinement.” Before they released him, he says, “someone opened the slit in the door and said that they were sorry, they’d arrested me by mistake." He was released without any conditions. “They didn’t even give me a piece of paper,” says Mohammed. He claims that to this day he hasn’t received his ID card back, or two family phones that were confiscated by the policemen. The police misconduct investigation unit told Haaretz this week that his complaint “could not be located on its computers.”

Beaten all over his body

Among the complaints that were filed recently, the unit for investigating police misconduct found one that warranted filing charges against a policeman named Gil Zaken, who was accused of assaulting someone without cause. In that case, says HaMoked, only one policeman was indicted, though other policemen took part in the assault.

The incident occurred on May 12, during the Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza. The plaintiff, Ahmed Sliman, who worked at a café in downtown Jerusalem, was fleeing from a gang of Jewish youths who were searching for Arab passersby to attack. He hid with a friend behind a stone wall. The police arrived on the scene, having received a report about a terrorist with an axe in the area. According to the complaint he filed, the policemen surrounded him and proceeded to beat him.

Police during a protest in Jerusalem, in April.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“The policemen attacked Sliman, kicking and beating him in the head and all over his body, sparing no parts,” says the complaint that was filed with the Justice Ministry by attorney Dakka from HaMoked. They handcuffed and searched him, later trying to get him to sign a document which included, among other things, a declaration that he had not been assaulted by policemen. Sliman refused to sign the document.

According to the complaint the policemen later conducted a search and cursed him, with one of them saying: “You can be thankful you didn’t get a bullet to your head.” The policemen left without arresting Sliman, and he was taken by ambulance to a hospital for medical attention. He suffered nose bleeds, cuts to his face, a broken tooth and hemorrhage in his eye. Photos he took after the incident show his face badly bruised.

Dragged with her legs exposed

The fourth complaint was filed in July by Wafiya Da’ane, 60. Da’ane was making her way to Temple Mount during Eid al-Adha when police officers blocked her entry, ordering her to hand over her identity card. According to the complaint, when she tried to argue with one of the officers, he started pushing her away from the entrance. “Shaken up by the reaction and out of fear, Ms. Da’ana began screaming,” the complaint filed with the internal investigations office stated. “She felt they were treating her like a dangerous criminal, and not like an older woman who just wanted to visit the mosque.”

Additional officers arrived, among them a female officer who started shouting at her in Hebrew. Da’ane didn’t understand what was being said, but when she saw the female officer pull out handcuffs she realized the police intended to arrest her. “She stuck out her hands and didn’t resist arrest. The female officer handcuffed her and continued yelling,” the complaint said.

Later, the police allegedly dragged Da’ane while still handcuffed, and one of them grabbed her by the throat. Da’ane asserts that the officer beat her and then she lost consciousness for some seconds. “When she returned to herself after a few seconds, she found herself being dragged by the police with her entire legs exposed, despite the fact that she is a religious woman who wears a hijab” the complaint states. “The police lacked any sensitivity, and they dragged her in this state before passersby.”

Da’ane couldn’t believe what was happening “and started to cry out of pain and humiliation,” the complaint said. “Although her legs were weak she tried again to stand, to stop the humiliating scene which severely hurt her dignity, and which still causes her to cry whenever she’s reminded of it.”

An Israeli border policeman performs a body search on a Palestinian youth near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, in 2016.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS/ עמאר ע

Da’ane was taken to the police station under arrest, where she was brought by ambulance after feeling ill. She was told to return for questioning in three days upon her release. When she returned to the David regional station, the police refused to receive her and refused to return her identity card. She has not been called back since. The police internal investigations unit commented that the complaint was received and processed as usual.

Arrest with a Taser

Another complainant named Ali Abu Sareh was allegedly attacked after approaching Border Policemen who had attacked a female journalist in the Old City. He was arrested using a stun gun and asserts that the police struck him in the head and kicked his body. He suffered fractures in his face and injuries to his stomach, head and back. He vomited twice during his arrest.

According to the complaint he filed, his medical condition was so serious that a doctor in the jail at the Russian Compound refused to accept him and insisted he be hospitalized. The police accused him of attacking a police officer and injuring a policewoman with a fork. Despite this accusation, the police agreed to release him on bail the next day, and have not filed charges since. The police internal investigations unit commented that his complaint is being reviewed.

Asked about her hair color

Yet another complaint was filed by Alaa Daiyeh, a 24-year-old television producer and photographer. According to her complaint, she tried on May 31 to photograph police officers allegedly attacking a Palestinian minor. She asserts that one of the officers charged at her and grabbed her mobile phone. “The officer, an Arabic speaker, refused to return her phone and forced her to show him her identity card, telling the other officers that she had filmed him using the application TikTok, though Daiyeh insisted that she did not have that application on her phone,” the complaint states.

The officer allegedly yelled that if she didn't shut up he would hit her and knock her teeth out. Daiyeh tried to deter the officer from threatening her, reminding him that his body camera was documenting the encounter. He replied in Arabic, “You and your prophet can go to hell,” the complaint states. The officers then arrested her and took her in for questioning, she said, asking along the way about her hair color and instructing her to remove her hijab to verify that she was not lying. Her investigator repeated the instruction. Later, the police contacted her brother to convince her to sign a voluntary restraining order to stay away from Damascus Gate. She said the police used sexist language during the conversation, including sexual innuendo. The police internal investigations unit commented that her complaint is under review.

“The lack of faith in the internal investigations unit has led to a situation in which very few Palestinians who have been victimized by police violence are prepared to file a complaint,” Jessica Montell, the executive director of human rights organization HaMoked, commented. “This situation creates a cycle that perpetuates police violence because officers act with a sense that they are immune from accountability,” she said. “Violence against Palestinians in East Jerusalem has become routine over the past year, and therefore it is incumbent upon the internal investigations unit to pursue justice in the complaints we filed, with the goal of hopefully preventing additional harm in future.”

Police evacuate Palestinians during a right-wing nationalist parade in the Damascus Gate area in Jerusalem, in June.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Police: ‘Distorted picture’

The Jerusalem District Police responded with a claim that “The cases mentioned in the article are tendentious and rife with inaccuracies. The attempt to draw conclusions regarding police activity by presenting a one-sided picture distorts the truth.” According to the police, cases where civilians attack or resist arrest “require the use of enforcement authorities and the use of reasonable force.”

“Force is used in less than 0.1 percent of the many encounters between police and civilians each year during operational activity – a statistic that indicates restraint of force and the correct and proportional use of this authority,” police stated.

Relative to the complaints filed against them, most officers are “found to have acted lawfully," police said. Police added that they "regret that rather than write about the thousands of cases annually in which police officers are attacked, and many injured as in some of the cases mentioned, there are those who choose to blame the police.”

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