Three Israeli civilians were brutally attacked by three other Israelis on November 30, 2013. The reason that the attack remains etched in the shocked memory of very few people is the simple fact that the victims were Bedouin from the southern town of Rahat and their attackers were policemen.
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Taleb Al-Touri and his sons Rauf and Nidal had joined a protest against the Prawer plan for the forced relocation of Negev Bedouin from their land. When the demonstration in the village of Hura turned violent, the three members of the Al-Touri family left the area, planning to go home. All of a sudden, they were attacked by a group of about 10 men wearing uniforms and helmets. The father and his sons had then made the mistake of a lifetime.
Their assailants knocked them down, with their heads striking the ground. A stun grenade or sponge-tipped bullet exploded on Nidal’s back. They were kicked and dragged, with their hands cuffed behind their backs by plastic handcuffs. The uniformed men jumped on them. A soldier urinated in the father’s face; at one point he lost consciousness.
While all this was happening to them, they should have taken out a pen and a pad of paper and politely said to their assailants: “Excuse me. What are your names, what are your ranks, what unit do you belong to and how many of you are there?”
They are to be blamed for having failed to do so. And because of this failure, the Justice Ministry department that investigates police misconduct halted its inquiry into the complaint they had filed. That was in January 2014. In December 2014, their file was closed.
Due to their manifestation of civic irresponsibility, Deputy Attorney General Yehuda Shefer had no choice but to deny their appeal against the decision to close the investigation, which was filed by attorney Eitay Mack and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.
The filing of the appeal gave Mack a peek into the closed file concerning the investigation. It turns out that the ministry’s misconduct department had not even bothered to take steps to locate the unidentified policemen involved in the assault. It only questioned two policemen, who had not been masked and who said that the police who had stopped Al Touri and his sons were from the special patrol and security unit known by the Hebrew acronym Yassam. The Yassam policemen had not bothered to write up an arrest report, as required. As a result, there was no record of their names. How very convenient.
In explaining the denial of the appeal, Shefer wrote: “Hundreds of policemen had come to the site in an effort to control the disturbances. In the face of the scope of the incident and the bedlam that prevailed at the site, arrest and detention reports were not written up, and this included the appellants [the father and sons]. The matter was looked into by the police and lessons were learned.
“Since the appellants didn’t obtain any identifying details regarding the soldiers who allegedly harmed them, it was not possible to identify the alleged culprits in particular or which of the hundreds of police present at the scene were the ones who allegedly harmed the appellants. The protest gathering took place in 2013, so in light of the scope of the event and the passage of time, there is substantial difficulty in completing the investigation.”
The Al Touri family, along with Mack, decided to try a different channel of Israeli Justice. They filed a civil suit for damages against the state, which they maintained bore overall liability for the acts of the police and the Justice Ministry investigators. The first hearing on the civil suit was held on December 12 before Judge Rachel Tiktin-Adulam of the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court.
According to the minutes of the session, Alon Dafna, of the state prosecutor’s office, told the court: “I think that in the absence of an indication by the plaintiffs of a specific party who attacked them they have no possibility of proving [that their attackers were police]. Otherwise, after every fracas between two people, one of them would say that an unknown party attacked me and the two of them would say that it was someone in uniform. I am of the belief that they participated in a violent demonstration and therefore there is a reasonable probability that they were injured in the violent demonstration and not by policemen. We shouldn’t automatically believe it every time there is a complaint that an unidentified policeman hit a citizen on the street The legal significance of this difficulty is [the issue of] what is the threshold expected of a defendant to dispel the plaintiff’s claims. In my opinion, that’s a legal question.”
For his part, Mack asked the court to note the existence of “a picture of the three plaintiffs on the ground with the policemen on top of them.” In other words, it was not just someone off the street who attacked them or got in a fight with them. Mack rejected the argument that it was not possible to identify the assailants. The testimony, he said, had narrowed it down to Yassam policemen who attacked first, followed by subsequent violence directed at the father and his sons at the local police station and while the victims were being taken to hospital for treatment. That does not describe hundreds of police, but narrows the search down to a much smaller and specific group of police.
And what did the judge say? She directed Mack to amend his lawsuit to define the specific defendants (the police and the Justice Ministry police investigation division) rather than simply suing the state. Mack knows a thing or two about damage suits: he has previously filed quite a few against the state, claiming its liability for the acts of the army or police, but this was the first time that he has been required to state the names of the state entities as defendants. Nevertheless, he said that he would amend the complaint. For its part, the state prosecutor’s office was given permission by the court to amend its response by February 1. To be continued.