Israel's Top Court Overturns Decision to Perform Autopsy of Murdered Child

Justices reverse ruling by lower court to conduct an autopsy on boy allegedly choked to death by his uncle ■ Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protested the autopsy, generally opposed in Jewish tradition, in multiple cities

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Ultra-Orthdox men protest the decision to perform an autopsy in Bnei Brak on Monday.
Ultra-Orthdox men protest the decision to perform an autopsy in Bnei Brak on Monday.Credit: Moti Milrod

The High Court of Justice on Monday sided with the family of a Jerusalem toddler who was allegedly choked to death by his uncle, barring the state from conducting an autopsy against the family’s wishes.

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Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men protested in several locations around the country against the planned autopsy, blocking major roads in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

The uncle, a man in his 20s, allegedly choked the 4-year-old on Friday, and the child died the next day. Suspected of the murder, the uncle has been remanded in custody until next week. He has a history of psychiatric problems, but police are not aware of any prior acts of violence he committed, they said.

The state argued that the autopsy was necessary to establish the case against the uncle, whereas the family’s lawyers argued it was not because there was already clear evidence, and it would violate Jewish law. According to Jewish law, autopsies are generally prohibited unless they can immediately help save the life of others (i.e., through organ donation).

A protest on Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem, Sunday.Credit: Emil Salman

Several Haredi groups protested the initial decision to allow the autopsy. Five protesters were arrested at demonstrations on Sunday. Following the ruling, protests that had been planned for Monday in Bnei Brak, Jerusalem and Modi’in Illit were called off.

Water cannon policy

A Jerusalem police water-cannon operator shot a jet of water directly at a small child who participated in the Sunday protests before the ruling. Footage of the incident, posted by journalist Chaim Goldberg on the Orthodox website Kikar Hashabbat, shows the boy being hurled forcefully to the pavement from the water jet’s impact, then immediately getting up and leaving.

Police refuse to detail how the water cannon is deployed, such as its range and where on the body it may be aimed, claiming that this would “expose police strategy and conduct.” Written police procedures state that a water cannon may be deployed when “there is a disturbance of public order, in a manner that might lead to bodily harm and property damage,” and that “firing at women appearing to be pregnant, senior citizens and children should be avoided insofar as possible.” The Association for Civil Rights in Israel is currently awaiting a verdict regarding the police’s refusal to disclose the full procedure to the public.

Despite the harsh criticism against water cannons deployed at the anti-Netanyahu protests in Jerusalem, police have eased restrictions on its use in recent years. In 2020, police reduced the permissible range of use from 25 to 20 meters and removed the prohibition on firing at a person’s head.

Anne Suciu, an attorney with Association for Civil Rights, said, “The police’s profligate use of the water cannon continues, and like in past cases, it is unlikely that anyone will pay a price, or any conclusions will be drawn. This is a dangerous tool that can lead to severe damage, and it’s sad that the police have to be told the obvious – that you can’t use it against children.”

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