Editorial

Thirty-four Seconds of Selective Enforcement

The arrests and interrogation signify that the Jerusalem police expect Palestinian passers-by to understand what's happening before their eyes and act within seconds or else be brought to trial

Border policemen perform a body search on a Palestinian youth following a stabbing attack on near Jerusalem's Old City.

On Monday morning, 24 hours after the terror attack in which Adiel Kolman was murdered in the Old City of Jerusalem, the police arrested eight Palestinian residents. Among them were a boy of 15 and a woman of 67. The suspicion: violation of the clause “not preventing a crime.”

The arrests were carried out after film footage of the attack showed the suspects not doing anything. But the time between the event’s beginning and the police’s arrival and shooting of the terrorist was 34 seconds.

The arrests and interrogation signify that the Jerusalem police expect Palestinian passers-by to understand what is happening before their eyes and to act within seconds, while endangering their lives, otherwise they will be brought to trial. Experience shows how dangerous it is for a Palestinian to come close to a terror attack site, and how hasty the police are to open fire. Demanding that Palestinians to come close to an attack site is immoral and cruel.

The legal clause “not preventing a crime” is a most irregular charge in the Israeli legal system. Its clearest test was the case of Margalit Har-Shefi, who was ultimately convicted by the Supreme Court for not preventing the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The justices warned in the verdict of expanding the use of this clause. Justice Mishael Cheshin wrote, “The core of the offense of not preventing a crime is in the knowledge. Knowing that someone is scheming to carry out a crime is the spark that creates affinity between the defendant and the planned crime.”

Har-Shefi, it should be stressed, didn’t have 34 seconds to know about the planned crime and act to prevent it, but many months.

Justice Jacob Turkel warned in the verdict that “a clear distinction must be made between a person’s moral duty to take reasonable steps to prevent a crime and his legal duty.”

In arresting the suspects and asking the court to extend their custody because they didn’t prevent a crime, the police set an impossibly high moral and legal bar. It is no coincidence that they raised the bar when Palestinian residents are concerned. Nobody bothers to check video clips of terror attacks in West Jerusalem, or other places, to make sure all the Israeli civilians seen in them are behaving as expected and rushing to attack the terrorist.

The police would do well to close the case for lack of guilt and ask to release the detainees from the house arrest they were put under. The use of the clause “not preventing a crime” must be reserved for rare, clear-cut cases, and not used to impose collective punishment on a public the police want to punish.

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