Israeli Watchdog: Poor Coordination Among Police, Army and Security Service Hurts West Bank Investigations

State comptroller raps police failure to solve thefts of Palestinian land, in part due to delays in intel transfer by Shin Bet

Israeli soldiers aim their weapons at Palestinian protesters during clashes in Hebron, West Bank, February 16, 2018.

A state comptroller’s report released Wednesday enumerated multiple shortcomings in the performance of the Judea and Samaria District police, which is responsible for the West Bank. State Comptroller Joseph Shapira criticized faults in coordination among the police, the army and the Shin Bet security service that in some cases led to the failure of investigations.

According to the report, the police are unsuccessful in investigating crimes related to land ownership in the West Bank and probes can be delayed for years, even when the complainant is the army’s Civil Administration. Shapira said the police also fail to properly investigate the actions of officers in the Border Police, the gendarmerie and border security branch of the national police force.

As for the failures in coordination between the West Bank police and the Shin Bet, the report says that despite a 2004 agreement specifying cooperation between the agencies, since 2015 the Shin Bet has often delayed responding to police requests for months.

Specifically, the report noted that requests submitted by the Judea and Samaria police to the Shin Bet between December 2015 and January 2016 had received no reply as of June 2016.

The Shin Bet ascribed its delayed response to the escalation in the security situation during the period, which did not satisfy the watchdog. Shapira wrote that the delays prevented potentially valuable intelligence from reaching its destination. “The Shin Bet must be prepared to respond to the police even during periods of escalation,” he said.

Shapira criticized the police for neglecting investigations concerning real estate in the West Bank, especially those related to land on which unauthorized settlement outposts have been built. For example, the police have been investigating for years without results a number of incidents of suspected land theft or the forgery of documents about land purchases in outposts and settlements. Among the cases under investigation are ones concerning the settlements of Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and Karnei Shomron.

According to the report, between 2014 and 2016, the officer in charge of real estate in the Civil Administration in the West Bank filed 25 complaints with the police about suspicions of forgery and fraud concerning land ownership and documents. None of these investigations has been completed. Shapira wrote that in internal discussion within the Civil Administration the staff says the Judea and Samaria District police are simply professionally incapable of investigating such occurrences. The district does not have a central investigations unit and they are unable to investigate such extensive and complex cases, said Civil Administration staff in the minutes of a meeting on the subject.

The police in the West Bank operate under the military government, in other words they are subordinate to the army. In reality, many matters are handled simultaneously by the police and the military. According to the State Comptroller’s report, a draft of new guidelines governing cooperation between the organizations was issued four years ago but never adopted.

The army and the police do not have an agreed protocol on the assignment of responsibilities when the police respond to an incident in the West Bank, a state of affairs the police confirmed in statements to the State Comptroller’s Office.

In January 2016, the then chief of investigations and intelligence for the Judea and Samaria District police said in a number of incidents the police’s forensic units found themselves in significant danger because of a lack of security for them. The state comptroller wrote that because of the lack of rules apportioning the duties between the police and the army in the West Bank after a police force arrives at the site of an incident, this could harm the ability to collect evidence from the scene– as well as endangering the police forces operating there.

When Border Police officers shoot

Through November 2017, the investigation of suspicious shootings by Border Police officers was carried out by the police — in the case of the West Bank, by the Judea and Samaria District police — not by the Justice Ministry department that investigates police officers.

From 1992, when the Justice Ministry unit was established, through 2014, only five indictments were filed against Border Police officers as a result of investigations by the Judea and Samaria District. In 2015, Uri Carmel, then the head of the Justice Ministry unit, said this suggested “a lack of appropriate resources allocated to the investigations as well as improper handling of the cases.”

Shapira said: “For many years the Judea and Samaria District police have been investigating Border Police officers involved in shooting incidents that caused injury or the death of Palestinians. These investigations were conducted since 2007 in violation of the Police Ordinance and at an especially slow pace. This situation severely impairs the handling of complaints and incidents requiring swift, effective and professional investigation,” states the report. Haaretz reported this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered in November 2017 to transfer the responsibility for such investigations against the Border Police officers in the West Bank to the Military Police, but in practice this decision has yet to be carried out.