High Court: Israel Police Handling of Palestinian Complaint 'Troubling, to Say the Least'

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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The road that was built in 2014 over a Palestinian man's land.
The road that was built in 2014 over a Palestinian man's land.Credit: Iesh Din
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

The High Court of Justice on Thursday blasted Israel Police's handling of a Palestinian’s complaint of property destruction by settlers, saying the police behaved with disregard and contempt..

The court said that if this was typical of how West Bank police handled Palestinian complaints, “it is troubling, to say the least.” The justices also wrote that the petition demonstrated “contempt in checking the complaint and that except for taking the Palestinian plaintiff’s statement, the police did virtually nothing."

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Ibrahim Rashid Ahmed Aalem, of the village of Tolat east of Qalqilya, complained in 2014 that the security coordinator of the West Bank settlement Maale Shomron destroyed land and property he owned for no reason. The police closed the investigation twice. Along the way, the police lost the documents that were meant to be passed on to the military police for investigation.

The court denied the petition filed by Aalem and the non-profit organization Yesh Din, because four years had elapsed since the event. Also, the army fired the security coordinator who had damaged the man's property.

However, the court castigated the police’s conduct and stressed that the petition was justified in itself, and that the state’s response attests to that. The court also ruled that the respondents – the state’s appeals department and the Judea and Samaria police – would pay the court expenses to the sum of 20,000 shekels.

The verdict said that the state admits to mistakes in the police decisions to close the case and that “lessons had been learned.” Justice Yitzhak Amit wrote further that apart from taking down the statement from Aalem, “it can be said that nothing had been done, and it seems that the very minimum that was done, was lip service ahead of closing the case.” Justices Menachem Mazuz and Alex Stein endorsed the verdict.

The El Matan outpost not far from the Ma'ale Shomron settlement in the West Bank.Credit: Moti Milrod

The incident took place after 11-year-old Ayala Shapira was injured by a fire bomb close to the El Matan settlement in 2014. After the attack the army started building a road on Palestinian land in the area. The work started at 10:30 P.M. but five hours later an order was given to stop work and leave the area.

However, the security coordinator continued to build the road. The state said it was unclear whether he knew about the order or not. The following day, it is clear that the security coordinator was aware of the order, yet work only ceased three hours later.

Aalem complained to the Judea and Samaria Police district that nine of his olive trees had been destroyed and that a large wheat field was damaged. In addition the digging destroyed a large water hole and those responsible “deliberately filled the well with earth and stones.”

He also said the security coordinator of Maale Shomron tried to chase him off his land.

In April 2016 the police closed the case due to “lack of criminal responsibility.” The petitioner filed an appeal, following which the police changed the reason for closing the case to “another authority is authorized (to investigate the case).” The Judea and Samaria police said the IDF must investigate the issue and the case was closed again and seemingly sent to the military police – but in fact it never got there.

Lawyer Shlomi Zecharya, who represented Aalem, said in response: “The verdict is a exemplary of the police’s behavior regarding Palestinians’ complaints, especially complaints about damage to lands and property. But the shortcoming isn’t only the fault of Judea and Samaria policemen, but also of Justice Ministry officials whose job is to supervise the investigation and its effectivity. They acted in keeping with the attitude of the Judea and Samaria police, so the Justice Ministry must do some soul searching no less than the police.”

The Israel Police said in a statement that "Every complaint filed with the police, which raises suspicion a criminal offence was committed, is thoroughly examined and handled, regardless of the identity or the religion of the complainant.” 

Regarding the handling of the specific case, the police claimed it “does not reflect the way the majority of cases are handled.” 

"This incident took place and was investigated five years ago, long before the petition was filed with the court and its verdict was given. Lessons have been learned from this case,” the statement read.

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