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Docu-crime

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Right: Samar Sleiman in his basement. Right: Screengrab from the scene in Jerusalem District
Right: Samar Sleiman in his basement. Right: Screengrab from the scene in Jerusalem DistrictCredit: Emil Salman

At 3:30 A.M. on November 4, 2018, police came to the home of the Sleiman family, in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiyah. They entered, together with the cameras of “Jerusalem District,” a Kan public television docudrama series that follows police work in the city. At home at the time was Saleh Sleiman, 15. Four years ago, Salah was hit in the face by a sponge-tipped bullet fired by an Israeli police officer, becoming blind as a result. (The Justice Ministry department that investigates allegations of police misconduct did not prosecute the shooter.)

After about two hours of fruitlessly searching the house, the police went into the basement; there, too, they found nothing. In their distress, one of the officers retrieved an M16 assault rifle from a police vehicle. He placed it in a corner of the cellar, and the gun’s “discovery” was filmed. The police officers left without questioning or detaining anyone.

The Sleimans did not know about the deception until a few months later, when the ninth episode of the series was broadcast. Adding insult to injury, the “discovery” of the rifle was accompanied by dramatic narration and analysis of the police officers, who compared the basement to “tunnels in Gaza” and gave their interpretation of the body language of members of the Sleiman family, calling it “tense.”

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The Israel Police, Kan and the series’ production company, Coda Communications, did not deny the facts. On Monday, after Haaretz broke the story, Kan removed the episode from its website. On Tuesday the police, in a rare gesture, apologized for the incident. “We apologize for any harm done to the civilian as a result of the broadcast of the episode,” the police said in a statement. But an apology is not enough. The acts of both the police and the producers are serious: the police who planted a weapon and staged its “discovery” for the purpose of public relations. Neighbors of the Sleimans who watched the episode easily identified the home and its residents, and began to suspect that members are the family are criminals or collaborators with the police, since none of them was arrested. Thus the police not only defamed the family and the entire village of Isawiyah but also put them in danger.

Kan should immediately launch an investigation to determine whether weapons were planted in other episodes of the series or innocent people incriminated, and should release the findings. The police should suspend the officers involved until the facts are entirely clear. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is quick to react and to assign guilt every time it suits his worldview – that is, every time the suspect is a Palestinian – must denounce the acts and apologize, and the Justice Ministry’s investigation department must launch a probe.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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