In Israel, the Bedouin Victim Is at Fault

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Israeli Arab Bedouin protest in March 2016 at Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized village Israel plans to remove to make way for a Jewish town.
Israeli Arab Bedouin protest in March 2016 at Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized Negev village Israel plans to remove to make way for a Jewish town. Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP

The victims who have been attacked are responsible for the damage caused by the attackers. This is a clear, lawyerly answer, without any relation to the fact that the victims were Bedouin and the attackers police officers, representatives of the government.

In response to a lawsuit for compensation on behalf of the three members of the Alturi family from Rahat for the physical, mental and material damage done to them after police officers abused and falsely arrested them, attorney Zohar Bar El of the southern district of the State Prosecutor’s Office wrote: “The claimed damage, which is denied, was caused, if it [even occurred] at all, on account of the plaintiff and represents gross negligence and/or contributory guilt at a level of 100 percent.” The defense brief was filed on August 1. The suit against the state was filed in March.

Bar El continues the line of reasoning of the deputy state prosecutor, Yehuda Shaffer, who explained why the investigation was closed without any effort to locate the police officers who violently arrested the father, Taleb Alturi, and his two sons Nidal and Ra’uf. The victims, wrote Shaffer to attorney Eitay Mack at the end of July, did not “provide a number of identifying details about the police officers who allegedly harmed them.”

Bar El echoed him: “At the center of the suit against the state stands, among other things, the plaintiffs’ claims against the actions and errors of government bodies during the police detention, arrest and investigation, the accompaniment to the hospital and the accompaniment to the jail, and all this without indicating the identity of those people, even though it was easily possible to do so.”

In other words, between the blows and kicks they suffered from a large group of police officers wearing helmets, between lying on their stomachs and being handcuffed and dragged, between another kick and another baton blow and another curse – the three people being beaten needed to ask the policemen for their full names and the name of their unit.

They also had to take a very good look at the faces of their abusers in the dark, or look for other means of identification for the benefit of the investigators of the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police officers (perhaps a mole on the left earlobe?).  

Only because of the Alturis’ mistakes was the investigation halted at the end of January 2014, two months after it began. Only because of them did the Justice Ministry investigators not call in for questioning the commander of the police’s Yasam crowd-control unit, whose officers, according to the testimony of other police officers, were the ones who violently arrested the father and sons.

The circumstances: On November 30, 2013, the three men participated in a demonstration, with a permit, in the Bedouin town of Hura in the northern Negev, against the Prawer plan for removing Negev Bedouin from their lands and concentrating them in crowded townships against their will, so that Jews can move into the evacuated land.

After about an hour, a few people on the margins of the protest threw rocks at the police officers. The demonstration was declared illegal and the violent repression of the protest began – by police on horseback firing tear gas and foam bullets – before people managed to disperse. A few protesters clashed with the police. Others, including the Alturi family, wanted to flee but had a hard time doing so. After more than two hours, when they were waiting for a ride to take them home (the clashes still continued far away from where they were), police officers in helmets attacked them and took them, bruised up, to jail.

Here is a politically incorrect question: Would an investigation of an attack on Jews from the town of Omer, north of Be’er Sheva, have been closed with the same ease after two months of almost no action. The answer is: The question is superfluous. Jews from Omer or the single farms in the Negev would not be attacked in such a way. They do not need to defend their homes and lives.

Bar El also writes in her defense brief: “This suit is to be rejected out of hand for reasons of immunity. The defendants acted legally, in accordance with their legal authority and in good faith. Therefore, the defendants have immunity according to Section 3 of the Civil Damages Law.” The state, even when it is disassembled into its violent components (police officers and soldiers) is immune from suits and culpability. Violence is the law.

Would the policemen have attacked this way, and would the Justice Ministry investigators have stopped investigating after two months of almost no activity, if they had not known the government was backing them up? Another superfluous question.

The policemen’s physical violence complements the bureaucratic violence, which with an official’s signature and architectural sketch expels Bedouin, and Arabs in general, to settle Jews in their place. These days they are building Hiran for the families of graduates from the pre-military academy in the Eli settlement. Why must they settle precisely on the lands of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, while its residents are to be dislocated? Yes, this is a superfluous question, too.

Police violence is intended to implant logic in the heads of those who object to their banishment and discrimination: Give up your organizing and protest. Because it will cost you in physical pain, psychological damage, lost work days, a police file and who knows what else. This violent intimidation is also an essential tool for a state that is breeding bystanders, collaborators, ostriches and rhinoceroses.

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