Charges Are Pressed Only in 4% of Settler Violence Cases

When cases pertain to violence against Palestinians, investigators often ignore evidence, fail to question witnesses, or simply close case

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A car vandalized by settlers in south Mount. Hebron, in September.
A car vandalized by settlers in south Mount. Hebron, in September.Credit: Tomer Applebaum
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Everything was documented. Videos showed a group of settlers coming into a parking area in Hawara, near the settlement of Yitzhar, and throwing stones at 13 vehicles. The footage from the security cameras was very clear. It was no secret. Later that night, soldiers arrived to document the damage. A patrol officer joined them. The police in Ariel were provided with photographs, the names of witnessess, and told that there had been soldiers on the scene at the time of the crime- and that they had footage showing exactly what happened.

The incident took place on March 15, 2020, but nearly two years later, no one has been arrested or indicted. On the contrary, the file has been closed. A file containing just a letter of complaint, photographs of the incident, and a report from the patrol officer.

This incident is one of many. At Haaretz's request, police provided figures showing that in only 3.8 percent of criminal cases pertaining to violence against Palestinians were charges actually filed. In absolute numbers, 221 of 263 cases that were opened were closed without any action taken. Only ten of those cases resulted in an indictment. The rest are still under investigation.

Settlers throwing stones at vehicles in Hawara.

The figures include cases in which the police arrived at the scene long after the incident occurred, cases in which a Palestinian attempted to lodge a complaint but was denied entry into the Police station for hours, and cases where no investigation was conducted at all.

That is what happened in the case documented in Hawara. It happened even though Alon Sapir, the lawyer representing the Palestinian parking area owner on behalf of NGO Yesh Din, sent a reminder to the police to move forward with the case. Another letter was sent by attorney Michal Ziv in July - just a few months after the incident occurred - asking to be updated on the progress of the investigation. It elicited no response. Only later did she discover that she was too late- the case had been officially closed a month ago.

The failure to update parties to a case – or to notify them that the case has been closed – isn’t a particularly unusual occurrence, as attorneys Michael Sfard and Amnon Bronfeld Stein can attest. The two represented a Mufid Shaker, a Palestinian shepherd who filed a complaint in January 2019 at the Ariel police station.

Mufid Shaker with his herd, in 2019. Credit: Alex Levac

Their client claims he was pasturizing his herd on a piece of land in Homesh - a previous Jewish settlement that was evacuated as part of Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza - when a group of about 10 settlers arrived and forcefully expelled him. In addition, the Palestinian shephard says that three of the settlers attacked him with clubs, causing him to bleed from his head and eventually lose consciousness.

For half a year, Ariel police didn’t respond to his lawyers when they requested an update on the investigation. In the end, they were informed that the investigation had ended on the same day their client's complaint was filed- on the grounds that the perpetrator couldn’t be identified. The two lawyers asked to see the investigative material and were surprised to learn it consisted of nothing more than their clients initial statement.

The designation “unknown perpetrator” – meaning the police haven’t succeeded in identifying who was behind an offense – is pretty common in cases like this, data from Yesh Din reveals. Figures collected by the NGO from 2005 to 2021 show that 92 percent of all complaints never resulted in charges being pressed, and in 65 percent of those cases, the reason given was "unknown prepetrator."

In another Homesh case over a year later, the same thing happened – the case was closed almost as soon as it was opened (the next day to be exact). This time the complainant was Hasin al-Qadi, 70, who, according to his complaint, was attacked along with his brother in the abandoned settlement by 18 settlers carrying clubs and throwing stones. One rock hit his brother’s arm, and from a distance, they witnessed stones being thrown at their cars.

In addition to the complainant’s statement, there had been a report by a patrol officer that arrived at the scene. It said soldiers also arrived and photographed the damaged vehicle, with video footage attached. However, the photographs and footage disappeared from the case file.

A video from October 20, 2018, which was published in Haaretz, showed settlers throwing stones and destroying a fence erected by residents of the village of Burin, near Yitzhar. A complaint was filed a month later. Nearly two years elapsed, and in August 2020, the case was closed.

The lawyer representing the Palestinians said that during that time they had been only updated on the case's progress once, in April 2021. And what was done during all that time to identify the perpetrators? It’s hard to know. The file contained nothing more than the original complaint.

The police simply aren’t doing anything,” said Hawara’s mayor, Mueen Dameidi. “We come and make a complaint, but it’s no help at all.” He recalls how two weeks ago a convoy of settler cars came from Tapuah Junction into the town and broke car windows.

“At Tapuah Junction, the army has cameras, the cars have license plates – they could find [the perpetrators] in a minute. If they were Palestinians they would take them and their mothers and their grandmothers, too.”

Failed to summon

South Hebron Hills, June 2018. A Palestinian resident of the area files a complaint to local police in which he states that settlers from the Havat Talia outpost – led by the brothers Bezalel and Yeidiya Talia – prevented him from entering his property, cut down some of his trees and assaulted him. A year-and-a-half later, in January 2020, the case was closed with two memoranda attached: One reported that a police officer tried and failed to summon the two brothers from the outpost for questioning; the other sought to clarify ownership of the land with the Civil Administration.

A car vandalized by settlers in Hebron, in August.Credit: Emil Salman

Before he was notified that the case had been closed, the same Palestinian filed a second complaint against the brothers involving a separate incident. In November 2019, he alleged that the two took over land belonging to him and planted trees on it. He even saw them watering the saplings. This case was also closed in January 2020.

An examination revealed that the police tried unsuccessfully to summon the brothers for questioning. Once they informed investigators that they were unable to come and to try them the following week. Another time, the brothers didn’t answer a phone call placed to them. Attorney Kamer Mashraqi, from the legal aid organization Haqel which studied the case, found that the police tried no other way to question the brothers.

Yitzhak Gatnio, an attorney who was head of investigations for the Shay (Judea and Samaria) District police until leaving in 2016, told Haaretz that the Shai police face unique challenges, first and foremost a small force covering a large geographical area.

“Let’s say that I get a report of an incident in the settlement of Eli and then one at Rantis Junction, it’s going to take me an hour and a half to travel in a police car from one place to the other. We don’t have enough police deployed,” he said.

Judea and Samaria Police District.Credit: Emil Salman

According to the Israel Police Yearbook, in 2020 the Shai District had the fewest personnel of any district – 1,238 officers.

But even taking this into account, it doesn’t explain the serial failure of police to inform Palestinian complaintants of the progress of investigations. In the last few months, attorneys representing Palestinians have sent letters of complaint on a series of omissions on the part of police.

Last August Misriqi approached the Shai Police legal adviser, Meirav Ettinger, to complain that her requests for updates had not been answered for more than a year. The response to her complaint only arrived in December and then only after she appealed to the state comptroller.

She isn’t the only one to have this experience. Last September, attorney Ziv made the same appeal after failing to get answers to requests for updates from the police.

“Over the years, the law enforcement system has allowed the settlers to run wild,” said Yesh Din in a statement. “The police’s failure to address settler violence against Palestinians is consistent – failed investigations, closure of cases under curious circumstances and very negligent policing.”

The NGO has filed a freedom-of-information request for police to open their files and the result of their investigations of Palestinian complaints.

The numbers they were given were fundamentally different from those provided to Haaretz. Thus, for example, while the Defense Ministry said that in the years 2018-2020, 263 cases were opened, the data given to Yesh Din showed 369.

Deterring the complainant

Conversations with the organizations and with Israeli security agencies reveal that in recent years the number of complaints by Palestinians to the Israel Police has decreased. Many of the Palestinians who spoke with Haaretz mentioned the police treatment as a major deterrent in filing a complaint – and this does not refer only to the epidemic of case closures. “It’s just disgusting to go file a complaint – you can wait for hours outside the station without being let in,” said a Palestinian who accompanies complainants to the Hebron police station. “You come and there isn’t always a policeman who speaks Arabic. Sometimes they just tell you, come back another day, we don’t have anyone today.”

A vandalized car in the west Bank town of Hawara, in January. Credit: Betselem

Misriqi tells of an incident where a Palestinian went in September 2019 to the police station in Hebron to file a complaint about illegal construction on his land, but was told that he must wait outside. When attorney Ariel Galili (also from Haqel) called the station, a desk sergeant who identified himself as Stefan told him the Palestinian cannot be in the station without a guard to oversee him, adding that “all Palestinians are suspect until we clear them, and until then they are under guard in the station.” The Palestinian eventually waited for two hours until being told that there was no investigator free to see him.

This type of conduct is not unique to the Hebron station. In January of last year a Palestinian whose vehicle was attacked with rocks came to the Sha'ar Binyamin station to file a complaint. It was 10 at night and he was told at the entrance that there was no one to see him at the moment and to come back tomorrow. He returned at 11 in the morning, only to await an Arab-speaking investigator, who arrived at 4 in the afternoon. When the policeman finally came out to speak to him, he told him, “We’re done for the day, we won’t receive you, come tomorrow.”

Gatnio says there is indeed a shortage of Arab-speaking investigators in the district, and that’s why “policemen come from far away and in time it wears the policemen themselves down.” And the Shai (Samaria and Judea) District has another unique problem, he says – the division of the West Bank into areas A, B, and C, which means the police don’t have jurisdiction over the entire area, and sometimes it needs to coordinate its operations with the army and even the Palestinian police.

He says that in the past it has happened that the multiplicity of agencies operating in the area has caused the contamination of crime scenes, particularly by the Palestinian police.

“Shai is a different district,” he concludes. “It’s more complex, the area is large, it’s dangerous, and every operation is done in combination with soldiers. There are many elements absent in other districts.”

The Israel Police responded: “As to the incidents mentioned, all incidents were thoroughly looked into and a variety of investigative actions were taken. After the exhaustion of investigation in these cases, as no sufficient evidence was found to identify the suspects, the decision was made to close the cases.

Should new evidence or information be received by the police that can bring about developments in the investigations, the cases will be reopened. The Israel Police will continue to act incessantly against incidents of violence and disturbance of the peace resolutely, regardless of the identity of the parties involved, to protect the security of residents in the area.”

A window smashed by settlers in Hawara, in 2010. Credit: Moti Milrod

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