Police Shooting Puts Justice Ministry Unit to the Test

In the wake of a young Arab man's death, investigators in the unit that probes police conduct bear a heavy burden.

Gil Eliahu

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein acted properly when he called an urgent meeting Sunday to follow developments in the investigation of the police shooting in Kafr Kana on Friday, which killed Khayr al-Din Hamdan. Considering the tension among Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Arab citizens of Israel, the killing of a young Arab man by the Israel Police could be the spark that ignites a blaze, in terms of both society and security.

Thus, the investigators in the Justice Ministry unit that probes police conduct bear a heavy burden. They must investigate to the fullest, fearlessly and without surrendering to pressures. The fact that Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino and the unit’s head, Uri Carmel, are following the investigation closely, should encourage investigators to meticulously scrutinize whether the shooting was justified, and not let up and thereby raise suspicions that the outcome of the investigation was influenced by ulterior or political motives.

This is a test for the Justice Ministry unit investigating police conduct. Although it has been 20 years since the unit was founded, with the goal of preventing conflicts of interest inherent in the police investigating itself, it has still not managed to quell public concern that probes of members of the police force are whitewashed. Statistics showing that 93 percent of complaints to the unit are either not investigated at all or end up in the case being closed do not help dispel this concern. That is also true for cases in which the unit strangely refrains from investigating a police shooting, despite clear evidence that orders were disobeyed.

The Justice Ministry unit and the attorney general should not make do with examining whether the shooting was justified because of the policeman’s subjective feeling that he was in mortal danger. (In the video of the incident, it appears Hamdan was stabbing with a knife at the closed windows of the police car before running away and being shot from close range.) The tendency of the police to use live fire precisely when carrying out duties among the Arab population, and the fact that most citizens shot by police are Arabs, requires a revamping of the police doctrine on the use of force.

The intolerable outcome of the unit’s investigation of the killing of 13 Arab citizens in the riots of October 2000 must be kept in mind. The situation must be avoided at any price whereby each relevant entity does its job, and the final outcome is unacceptable. The killing of Khayr al-Din Hamdan must be investigated in a way that restores the faith of the Arab public in law enforcement.