Assault charges against a Palestinian activist were withdrawn last week after evidence was introduced in military court that conflicted with the prosecutors’ claims.
In 2018, Mohammed Khatib, of the West Bank village of Bil’in, was charged with assaulting an Israeli soldier and resisting arrest during a demonstration in February 2015.
According to the indictment, Khatib shoved a soldier while taking part in an unauthorized protest. But the charges were withdrawn after documentation of the incident showed that Border Policemen who had testified against Khatib had lied.
Khatib agreed not to sue for compensation.
Human rights lawyer Gaby Lasky, who represented Khatib, introduced a video, taken by Haitham Khatib, showing that the protest was nonviolent and that Khatib did not assault anyone nor resisted arrest.
The indictment said that while security forces were trying to disperse the demonstration, 15 “rioters,” including Khatib, surrounded and taunted them, and Khatib twice shoved a soldier with clenched fists.
But the video shows a group of demonstrators and photographers at some distance from the soldiers, who use tear gas in an effort to disperse them. The group then approaches the soldiers, who try to disperse the group and drive it back. The video shows no violence on the part of the demonstrators. Later, a policeman is seen spraying demonstrators, including Khatib, with pepper spray. Protesters scatter and Khatib remains alone, rubbing his eyes. Thirty seconds after, a policeman runs toward him, knocks him to the ground and arrests him.
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A Border Policeman testified that Khatib had pushed him, and that when he tried to arrest Khatib, he resisted, with policemen then laying him out on the ground.
Transcription of the hearings showed that the testimony – given in 2018, three years after the incident – was inconsistent.
At first, he said he sprayed Khatib before arresting him. Later, he said he used the spray after Khatib was already on the ground, since he was resisting arrest. He also said that he’d arrested Khatib together with another policeman, even though the incident report shows that policeman had not seen Khatib assaulting officers, and that he’d joined the action only after Khatib’s arrest. When asked who told Khatib that he was under arrest, the first policeman refused to answer. However, in the video, he is heard telling Khatib he was under arrest.
Khatib told Haaretz he was happy to have been found innocent, but he was not optimistic. “Today, I was cleared, but tomorrow they’ll find something new. The military court is not a court of justice,” he said.
Lasky said, “Again we see the ease with which Palestinians are charged in military courts, based on mendacious reports by Border Policemen. Without the video, Mohammed would have received a stiff sentence. This is further proof that the court system in the territories is not based on justice and pursuit of the truth” she said.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement that “An indictment was filed against the accused, Mohammed Khatib, alleging that he assaulted a soldier, participated in an unlawful demonstration, and interfered with a soldier in the course of his duties. After he denied the charges and prosecution witnesses were heard, the defense presented new evidence relating to the incident. Subsequently, after weighing all the circumstances, prosecutors decided to withdraw charges. The court therefore cleared the accused of these charges.”