The Nazareth District Court ordered the release on Friday of two Bedouin men arrested on suspicion home break-ins in the Jezreel Valley, and rebuked police for allowing ethnic origin to serve as grounds for arrest.
Judge Hanna Sabag wrote in his verdict that “all are agreed that the presence of a minority person in a Jewish community in the afternoon, or at any hour, is not a reason to justify their arrest,” and that officers should “avoid unnecessary arrests.”
The police said both men were caught in the yard of a private home and didn’t explain what they were doing there. But one of the suspect’s lawyers said police did not make this claim in court. The two live in the area and told the court they had gone to the community of Sde Yaakov in search of farming work.
The community’s security officer detained both men, in their early 20s, last week for suspected involvement in break-ins that occurred a few days beforehand. One of the suspects is a soldier who was on a special two-week furlough to help feed his family. The officer, who saw the two men in a vehicle with another young man (who has since been released) called police, who held them in custody overnight.
The two suspects were brought to the court the next day where a police representative said “there have been several break-ins in Sde Yaakov. They were questioned and gave their story. We need to check these stories against evidence collected at the scene.”
He asked the court to extend their detentions for another five days. According to the protocol, the officer was uncertain as to whether the army was aware that the soldier on furlough had been arrested.
Attorney Issam Tanous, from the public defenders’ office, representing one of the suspects, objected to police deciding “to take a person without any evidence linking him to a crime, only because he belongs to a certain ethnic group.”
“To say that a few days beforehand something occurred, so it must be someone from that group is an absurdity and against the law,” the attorney said.
Ram David, another public defender, noted that neither suspect had tried to flee and both gave a reason for why they were in the community. David, representing the furloughed soldier, said “this is a soldier on regular duty who got a special furlough from the IDF to help earn money for his family, in order to look for work.
“The man goes to look for work on farms and is detained for an hour without trying to flee. For a reasonable person this is all difficult to understand,” David said.
Earlier last week Magistrate’s Court Judge Ronen Fein said there was reason to fear that releasing the suspects could hurt the investigation and ordered them held another four days in custody.
Both suspects, one of whom was also suspected of interfering with police work and the other for threatening a public official, appealed to the district could where Sabag decided to release both of them immediately.
“Taking the investigation into consideration, I cannot detail the material in the file but the appellants’ statements show there is no reasonable suspicion to justify an extension of their arrests,” Sabag wrote.
“There may be the smallest chance of a crime having been committed but it is not enough to justify denying a person’s freedom and to order their incarceration for four days. Furthermore it seems to me we can easily say the suspicions do not justify their remaining under arrest even for a day,” the judge added.
In response to the district court’s ruling Tanous told Haaretz: “I think that what happened to these young men are two great injustices: The fact that police decided to arrest them and leave them a full night in custody and then ask for an extension of their arrests the next day without having any evidence linking them to the break-ins other than their being members of a minority group walking around a Jewish community.”
Police said in response: “The suspects were arrested and questioned on suspicion of involvement in break-ins, threats and attempting to thwart police work. Their arrests had nothing to do with their origin or religion but was due to the fact they had been caught on private property in a private backyard, without any explanation for why they were there. This in an area where there have been several break-ins, and after threatening police and an attempt by one of them to flee.
“After the Magistrate’s Court decided to extend their arrests the district court overturned the decision. But as we said, their release does not reflect at all on the results of the investigation and certainly doesn’t show they are innocent. The Israel Police continues to pursue the investigation with the aim of arriving at the truth and seeing that justice is served, while continuing to operate against property violators wherever they may be.”
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