Jerusalem Cops Accused of False Testimony in String of Arrests

Court orders state to pay NIS 100,000 in compensation to falsely jailed for six months.

A Jerusalem man is soon to receive NIS 100,000 compensation for being wrongfully jailed for six months in one of a series of arrests in the capital due to false police testimony or inadequate evidence.

Amir Tempelberg, 50, was arrested in April 2010 on suspicion of being involved in a robbery in Jerusalem's Neve Yaakov neighborhood, after a policeman testified he had seen him throw items into a public garbage bin. Later it turned out that those items had been stolen in the robbery.

Waal Alian - Michal Fattal - 09032012
Michal Fattal

The policeman said he recognized the suspect from a photograph he had with him. But six months later the court ruled the policeman's testimony unreliable and based on a photograph he had obtained three weeks after the robbery. The court ordered the state to pay NIS 100,000 in compensation to Tempelberg.

"This is by no means the first time a policemen has not told the truth in court," a senior public defense attorney says about the Tempelberg case. "This conduct has alarming implications on people's liberty."

Police officers reject the criticism. "These cases are examined by jurists from the investigation stage. There's a process to ensure the case is ready for indictment and when it moves on it is examined again and again," says a police officer.

Tempelberg is not alone. The Jerusalem Police have recently made numerous unjustified arrests and false statements in court. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel says the accumulation of such cases indicates a prevalent practice.

For example, two minors who were arrested in the Shuafat refugee camp some three months ago on suspicion of throwing fire bombs, were only released last week.

Contrary to the testimony of two Border Patrol officers, the court ruled the event had never taken place and the officer whose testimony had incriminated the minors hadn't even been on duty that day.

About a year ago, four left-wing Israeli activists were arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly and rioting at a demonstration against evicting residents from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The court released them after video footage refuted police officers' claims that they had been attacked by the protesters.

Earlier this month Dorit Argo, a member of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, was cleared of charges of attacking policemen and rioting during a demonstration in East Jerusalem some 18 months ago. The police claimed Argo had run wild and attacked them, but the court ruled on the basis of video footage "it's been proved the defendant offered the officers no resistance."

"We've had problems with policemen's false statements for years," says attorey Gaby Lasky, who represented Argo. "It's important the court takes more decisive action...a policeman's testimony should not be believed automatically."

"Charges are frequently filed against Palestinian minors with insufficient evidence. Such indictments cause damage to the youths' entire life, even when they don't end in a conviction, because they disrupt their integration in society," says ACRI attorney Nasrin Alian.

The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement intends to file for state compensation for Argo's false arrest, following her acquittal.

"The court has blown up a certain event," a police source said. "The court examined the riot and ruled it could not be described as a disruption of order."

As for the other cases, the source denied that policemen lied in their testimony. "When there's a problem of reliability regarding a policeman's statement the court says so explicitly. By rule policemen are bound to tell the truth...we train them to do so, it's in their DNA."

A youngster from the Beit Hanina neighborhood was released from custody in November after it transpired he had been arrested twice on the same charge, contrary to the court's ruling.

Yosef and Efrat Elkayam, a father and daughter from the settlement Mevo Betar were charged with attacking a gas station worker. After three years of exhausting legal procedures the court dismissed the charges against them, when the police said they had lost the security camera footage.

Waal Alian, of Jerusalem, was released three weeks ago after being jailed for five months on suspicion of molesting and threatening several young women in the Talpiot industrial area, near his home in Jerusalem's Beit Safafa neighborhood.

The women's testimonies were confused and contradicted each other and there was no other evidence against Alian except that he was wearing a green shirt, like the attacker. He had no prior record of sex offenses but the police and prosecution asked to extend his remand until the end of the court procedures against him.

"My life has been ruined," he said after the court released him. "I sat in prison for nothing for five months."

The police source said this was not a case of police negligence and the release was "circumstantial...The court saw things differently from us."

A police spokesman rejected all the complaints against police conduct. "The police can be relied on to keep the law and tell the truth, as they did in these cases. All the cases mentioned had adquate grounds for indictment."

As for the acquittals, the spokesman said "the court acquitted or dismissed the charges because it was not presented with clear cut evidence."