Israel Police May Think They're Above the Law, but They Aren't

The continually shameful handling of complaints against violent police shows that Israel Police cares more about its own image than doing justice.

A man riding a motorcycle in Tel Aviv sees two policemen standing next to the driver of a car and “going crazy.” One of the policemen tells the motorcyclist to leave the scene, but the man stays. In response, the cop allegedly grabs him by the collar and knees him in the groin. The man is arrested and taken to court, where he is remanded for two days for assaulting a police officer. The motorcyclist claims that he was the one attacked, and his complaint is conveyed to the department within the Justice Ministry that investigates the police. In response to the man’s appeal against his remand, the police decide to let him go and say they do not intend to press charges. Nine months later, however, he receives notice that he is to be charged. When his attorney asks to renew the complaint against the policeman, he is turned down and told that “the circumstances do not warrant opening a criminal investigation,” according to a report in Haaretz last week.

This shameful conduct – beginning with the police violence, their zigzag with regard to pressing charges, and the refusal of the police investigations department to reopen the man’s complaint - was roundly criticized by Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Shamai Becker. “The state did not bother to inform the accused that it had gone back on its promise not to press charges,” the judge said, ruling that he found no cause for charges against the accused. Shamai also said he found the police investigations department’s position “unreasonable and improper,” adding that if the department had investigated the matter, “it is unlikely we would have reached this point.”

As if the failure of the system were not serious enough, the police response is even more embarrassing. Alongside the usual empty words, “the verdict will be studied,” the response simply contradicts the reality. If the police indeed “view with great importance dealing with complaints against the police,” why didn’t they deal with the alleged violence of the police in this case? What is the meaning of “great importance” when the entire incident reeks of an attempt to sweep under the rug an injustice done to a person who simply wanted to help a fellow citizen?

A hint of the fact that the police response was mere lip service can be found in the rest of their statement: “Dealing with police who acted improperly can bolster the 30,000 members of the Israel Police who do sacred work every day.” That is, instead of admitting to failure and apologizing to the citizen, the police chose to pat themselves on the back.

An essential condition for a country to maintain the rule of law is for its citizens to trust their law enforcement agency. So when representatives of law enforcement seemingly break the rules, we must expect that the watchdogs will warn us. Therefore, along with the need for the police investigations department to thoroughly check their own house, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino should invest greater effort in dealing thoroughly with police violence and less with matters of image.