West Bank outposts: A whole system of dispossession

At the core of the outpost system lies the systemic violation of Palestinian human rights. YD_29.03

If we had to look for a good example of the meaning of the outpost system – the unofficial settlements Israel builds in the West Bank – we could hardly expect a better one than the one supplied by the minister of defense. Recently, commenting on an appeal that — contrary to publications — we have nothing to do with, and demands the removal of the Mizpe Kramim outpost, Defense Minister Moseh Ya’alon said (Hebrew) that: “This point was built legally, with the support of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense. True, later someone appealed, an Israeli organization of course, a leftist organization that found some Arab who claims ownership.” Much as it painful that this is the level of understanding of a senior Israeli minister, the interesting part here is actually the part where Ya’alon talks about “some Arab claims ownership.”

Because here, with some brutality, Ya’alon touches on the main problem of the outpost movement: its violation of Palestinian human rights in the West Bank. Yesh Din’s research over the years, and particularly its report, “The Road to Dispossession,” which uses the outpost Adei-Ad as a microcosm, finds that the creation of an outpost is a steady source for unceasing violation of the rights of the Palestinian residents in the nearby villages. This violation is inherent in existence of the outpost.

Let me explain. When an outpost is created, it grabs territory, which later becomes the core of the outpost. This territory often includes private Palestinian land. Around the core there is what is known as the SSA – “special security area” – which Palestinians may not enter except on special occasions, since it serves as the perimeter of the outpost. Outside the SSA there is Palestinian land that becomes a source of friction.

Why is it a source of friction? Because the goal of outposts is to expand. Adei-Ad, our test case, now includes territory nearly 30 times its original size. How do outposts expand? Israeli civilians arrive in the vicinity and either attack Palestinian farmers or damage their crops. This is done in order to terrorize them and force them to abandon their land. When the land is abandoned, it is taken over. In order to do so, of course, the outposts require assistance from their main partner, the government of Israel: soldiers who do not prevent violations such as settler riots; policemen who do not properly investigate attacks on Palestinians; attorneys who close cases without due cause; a Civil Administration that does not enforce its own demolition orders; government offices that hurry to provide services for an illegal settlement; and at the end of the line – the state attorneys, who time after time appear in court to defend these massive violations of the law, not to mention postpone bringing an end to them for long as possible. Time after time, the state suggests legalizing these outposts as a gift to the lawbreakers.

The first violation of Palestinian rights is that of their right to property — in other words, the land that is lost when Israeli civilians take it over. A short while after that comes the violation of their right to life and security: if you go to work your land, note that there is a chance you will not return home in one piece. Palestinian freedom of movement is also violated: with the creation of an outpost and the declaration of an SSA, there are territories that keep expanding, and forbid Palestinians from entering.

All this ultimately leads to the violation of Palestinians’ right and ability to make a living. Two of the villages near Adei-Ad have already been emptied of many of their residents. An agricultural settlement, after all, cannot exist if its land is taken away by force.

We are not dealing with just one case: there are about 100 outposts. Every time one of them is legalized, it creates a precedent for the legalizing the next outpost, and creates incentives for Israeli civilians to seize more land and terrorize more Palestinians.

This isn’t an accident, it’s a system. The outposts are approved, as Ya’alon admitted, by the minister of defense and the prime minister. This is the system, as we have shown in our earlier post about the “Under the Radar” position paper, in which all government offices complicit; this is the system whose existence is now out in the open, without blushing, by the minister of defense. This system means the systemic, intentional, violation of Palestinian human rights, and it must stop.

The secret life of settlement outposts

The Israeli government’s policy proves that the outposts are effectively settlements – only you’ll never hear them being called that. YD-Radar

“The outposts are not ‘hilltop youth.’ It is a carefully planned seizure of strategic points, the outposts have been coordinated with the Prime Minister.” – Adi Minz, former Yesha Council Chairman, 2004.

Since 1996 Israel no longer officially creates new settlements. This is an international guarantee of the government. Creating a new settlement requires a government decision, and with three exceptions (the legalization of the outposts Bruchin and Rechalim, together with Nofei Nechemia, and Sansana in 2013), there has been no such decision. Effectively, however, there are about 100 unofficial settlements in the West Bank. Officially, they are illegal. Officially, there are demolition orders against all the structures within these unofficial settlements. Practically, however they get unceasing support from the government and could not exist without it.

These settlements are euphemistically (and innocently) given the title “outposts.” Their history begins two years after that government decision, when Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon called upon the settlers to storm the hills and take them over. What you’ll seize, we’ll keep, he told them. And thus the outpost movement was born.

In 2005, the Sasson Report on this outposts was presented  to the government; in its honor, we recently published a new position paper titled “Under the Radar.” Sasson already noticed the method back then: the entire Israeli establishment more or less aids and abets the creation of outposts. After the land grab by Israeli civilians, the IDF promptly provides them with protection. Then, other authorities make sure water and electricity are provided. A short while after that, we have “facts on the ground,” which require legal procedures to change (procedures that can take years in the court system). Even when it is clear that construction there is illegal, no one is tried – there is no single Israeli unit in charge of enforcing construction in the West Bank. Recently, the High Court of Justice accepted the position of the State’s Attorney, according to which those in charge of the illegal construction of Ulpana Hill in Beit El should not be tried. The government used the stunning excuse: since it never indicted anyone for this offense, it may be that the suspects will attempt to claim “abuse of process.” If we take this logic further – and not much further – there will simply never be any point in attempting to try someone for taking over land in the West Bank. He or she will always be able to claim abuse of process.

Looking at the court statements by the state on issue of the outposts, we see how its position slowly changes. In 2008, the state took the position that it intends to remove many of the outposts, but that it shall do so at its own pace and by its own reasons. The state did not tell the truth; it did not remove even a single outpost without a clear order by a court. This, of course, was able to buy it some time.

In 2011 there was a change in the state’s position, when it told the courts that intends to pursue a course of partial enforcement. It would remove outposts built on private land, but will examine the possibility of legalizing those built on public land (which it prefers to call “state land” in order to create the impression that it owns them).

But this position also changes. In 2012, the government ordered the formation of the Levi Commission (for more on that commission, see here, here and here.) It ruled that the outposts are to be legalized, while rejecting the Partition Decision of 1947 and returning to the Balfour Declaration. In 2013, the state therefore changed its position once more: it tells the court that unless there is a concrete appellant who is an owner of land and prove that the land upon which the outpost is built belongs to him, then “political considerations” take precedence over law enforcement. That is, the state, represented by the state’s attorneys – tasked with enforcing the law – is telling the court something astonishing: political will can override the acute need of any civilized state to enforce its laws; that political will can force back the old precept that “one should pray for the welfare of the realm, for without fear of it, man will eat man alive.” It should be noted that in one of his latest rulings, ordering the removal of the illegal outpost of Amona, Chief Justice Grunis ruled that in the case of illegal construction, there is no need for a concrete appellant; the very illegality of the construction requires demolition.

During 2013 and 2014, we see another change in the state’s position: now it tells the court that while legally, the outposts mentioned in the petition ought to be removed, “special circumstances” prevent this removal.

Following the state’s behavior, we see the following deplorable pattern: historically, the government of Israel decided to mislead both the world and its own court system. The government created some 100 new settlements contrary to international law and its own obligations; it provides these settlements with every sort of aid, beginning with military protection and ending with legal cover. These days, it is trying to legalize about a quarter of the outposts – some are declared settlements, some are called “neighborhoods” inside already-existing settlements. In order to protect these settlements, it is willing to shake the foundations of the rule of law — one of the foundations of the modern state — and it is willing to quietly ally itself with felons. Those felons, in effect, become its emissaries, the people over whom the state spreads its aegis. It promises them that it will reward them with the land they grabbed by force for the felonies they commit in its secret service.

And these, actually, are the minor offenses the state and the felons commit together. As for the more serious ones, they’ll be described in the next post.

The operational logic behind terrorizing Palestinians

A relatively minor incident exposes the IDF’s double order system – the one MP-CID wouldn’t dare touch.

The incident in question, given the daily routine of the occupation, is relatively minor. On December 3rd, 2007, ‘Adnan Abu Haniyeh, a resident of the West Bank village Yanoun, woke up from the sound of an explosion. Something blew up, the windows of his house shattered and the house became filled with smoke. His little girl screamed in terror, and for a time the family feared that her hearing was permanently damaged. The walls of the house were covered with soot. Abu Haniyeh then heard the sound of a military Hummer.

The rest of the incident will be described according to the investigative files of MP-CID. According to the files, the incident happened this way:

That night, four IDF soldiers arrived in a Hummer at the outskirts of Yanoun to carry out a routine procedure, which the IDF calls “showing our presence.” The four soldiers were:

Platoon Commander Shmulik

Sergeant First Rank Eliahu (the driver)

Seargent First Rank Rotem

Sergeant Nathan

Lt. Shmulik ordered the driver to park the vehicle near the village, and before ordering one of the soldiers to shoot a flare. There is a general agreement among the suspects that Eliahu threw a stun grenade in the direction of the house; according to some of the testimonies, Rotem asked the lieutenant for permission to also throw a smoke grenade. The suspects agree that due to the noise made by the Hummer, Shmulik did not hear Rotem’s request, and Rotem — who claimed he thought he heard confirmation — threw the smoke grenade. Eliahu and Rotem both denied they intended to throw the grenades at the house; they failed to explain to the investigators how the grenade nevertheless managed to hit the house.

In his interrogation, carried out by MP-CID with relative speed only 14 days after the incident, Lt. Shmulik admitted that he ordered the soldiers to fire a flare and throw a stun grenade. He told the interrogators that he did not hear Rotem asking to throw a smoke grenade, that he knew about it only after the event, and that he would not have approved the request, as it went against procedure. Nevertheless, the lieutenant was in charge, it was his duty to know of the goings on, and took full responsibility for what happened. He also said that following the incident, he was relieved of his command.

But hold on. All the soldiers interrogated testified that a short while before this incident, that very evening, they were all at the village Furiq, together with Deputy Company Commander Itsik. There, they carried out a very similar action: they threw stun grenades randomly, made a lot of noise, and then continued on (without DCC Itsik) to Yanoun. The IDF took no issue with the incident in Furiq.

What happened in Yanoun? It is worth exploring the testimonies of the soldiers themselves. According to Nathan, “it’s a known procedure, in order to deter and show presence and force, and this isn’t the first time we did it.” Eliahu, who threw the stun grenade, called it a “routine activity.” Unlike Rotem, however, he threw the grenade with the approval of the lieutenant, and that Rotem’s independent action was “improper.” Eliahu claimed that only later did he come to know that his grenade exploded inside a house; that this wasn’t his intent; that the entire incident was “a major mistake and I am sorry it happened.” He knows, he told his interrogators, that you may throw a stun grenade in the direction of Palestinian houses, but not inside them; he knows that, because an hour earlier he saw DCC Itsik doing precisely that.

Let’s leave for now the fine Jesuit distinction between the idea that throwing a grenade “in the direction” of a house is perfectly okay, while actually hitting a house is forbidden. Let’s try and look at the procedure behind the action. What did Eliahu’s commander think he was doing? Well, Platoon Commander Shmulik defined “showing presence” as “a mounted recon of the village; the use of sirens; throwing stun grenades in streets; roads and open spaces; and the use of flares.” According to Shmulik, while this an accepted, routine practice, the IDF lacks a written procedure on it, and that throwing stun grenades requires the approval of a company commander or deputy. This is the error Shmulik made, which led to his removal from command: he approved Eliahu’s use of a stun grenade without first clearing it with DCC Itsik.

Note that all of these aggressive actions are not directed at what the IDF calls “disturbers of order”: they are directed at a non-violent and peaceful village. DCC Itsik told the interrogators of MP-CID nearly the exact same tale. What he called “initiated activity” includes the firing of flares and throwing stun grenades, but only with the approval of the sector commander – in our case, Itsik himself. He was unfamiliar with the procedure of throwing smoke grenades and considers it to be a violation of the norm. Itsik told his interrogators that there while are no written procedures, there is an oral one: “these are the directions which came down from the brigade.”

Before speaking to Itsik, the interrogators spoke to his superior, Lt. Col. Oren, the commander of the Sabre Battalion, whose troops were also involved in the incident. The BC tells the interrogators that, as far as he is concerned, the problem was that Shmulik acted under his own authority, without prior approval of DCC Itsik. The action, he told the investigators, “was operationally legitimate, as long as it is approved by the proper authority,” adding that, “there is an operational logic to this activity.”

But when the investigators tried to find the incident in the operational logs of DCO Nablus, of the Sabre Battalion or of the Shomron Regional Brigade, they found nothing. The “initiated activity” in Yanoun goes completely unmentioned, and there is no mention of the previous one led by DCC Itsik in Furiq.

When the investigators turn to command to explain themselves, they get conflicting answers. The operations officer of the Shomron Brigade said that there is such a procedure and it is carried out with the approval of the  battalion commander (for reasons unknown, the MP-CID investigators do not ask Lt. Col. Oren whether he gave the order. I wonder why). The division, on the other hand, denied the existence of an “initiated activity” procedure vehemently: there is no such procedure, and anyone who acted on it was wrong. The Givati Brigade’s ops officer (Sabre is one of Givati’s battalions) is unfamiliar with the procedure.

Let’s focus and go up the rank ladder:

The gruntsThey are familiar with the “showing presence” procedure, and carried it out several times. They know it well enough to realize that throwing a stun grenade requires the approval of an officer, and that throwing a smoke grenade into a house is forbidden.

The platoon commanderKnows the procedure well, knows that throwing a smoke grenade is forbidden, knows he stepped out of bounds by not asking permission to throw a stun grenade from his deputy company commander.

The DCC – Knows the procedure, says basically the same thing as the platoon commander. Says the directions come from the regional brigade.

The Battalion CommanderLt. Col. Oren is familiar with the procedure, thinks it has an “operational logic,” thinks the problem with PC Shmulik is that he did not receive permission for throwing the grenade from his DCC.

The ops officer of the regional brigadeIs familiar with the procedure, even though he thinks the rank that is supposed to approve it is somewhat higher (battalion commander rather than the DCC).

The divisional ops officerNo such thing, no such procedure, I don’t know it, never saw it, never heard of it.

So what is the story? It’s actually quite simple.

The Shomron Regional Brigade has a procedure for terrorizing Palestinians. It includes the firing of flares, stun grenades and the general disruption of life. The goal, which is repeated time and again, is “to show presence” or “create deterrence.” In other words: let these villagers know we can make life harder for them.

But it is an un-declared procedure. Everyone is familiar with it, and everyone knows that its legality is, to put it mildly, questionable. Therefore it is given orally and not written down (“these are the directions which came down from the brigade”), and no one needs to be surprised when the MP-CID investigators find no record of it in the operational logs.

Just a minute. Is the division really unaware of this procedure? Has its ops officer previously served in the UN forces? No. It’s just that at the divisional level, they already know that when MP-CID comes knocking, it means trouble.

Note that the investigation ends at the battalion commander level, and the investigators never ask him whether he gave the order. They don’t interrogate the Shomron Brigade commander, even though his ops officer says he knows the procedure well. They do not, of course, interrogate the division commander. There is a limit to what MP-CID can do. Interrogate grunts? All in a day’s work. A DCC or platoon commander? Not a problem. Battalion commander? This is uncertain ground. A brigade commander? One hell of a headache. A division commander? Fuggetaboutit. Because, one step up from the division commander is the Commanding General. This is a good spot to remind you that during Operation Protective Edge, we demanded that the the MP-CID must not be able to be the investigatory body for precisely this reason: it cannot properly interrogate the senior officers, and has no authority to interrogate the politicians involved.

 

Is this procedure, of throwing stun grenades for the purpose of instilling fear, a local issue? Not quite. In the testimonies gathered by Breaking the Silence, we find a testimony by an lieutenant who served in the Bethlehem area in 2009. He states that his troops carried out “showing presence” actions where “we would throw stun [grenades] in the alleys.” Another officer, also a lieutenant., testifies about his time in the Nablus region in 2009, where he and his soldiers carried out “initiated actions,” which included throwing stun grenades, using sirens, and general harassment, “in order to show them who’s the man.” Stun grenades and sirens: the same procedure, very same words, used by Lt. Shmulik four years earlier. The procedure is alive and kicking.

Returning to an earlier appeal we made back in 2009, when we demanded then-Colonel Itay Virob be put on trial we found that Virob (while giving testimony for one of his troops, who assaulted Palestinians) spoke of a procedure called “livnat shibush.” Virob described the procedure in these words:

“The first is entering the village. Jeeps racing at the entrance of the village. Sometimes the very entry of the village will disrupt the way of the [terrorist]. Another way is using pressure: throwing stun grenades, breaking into several houses or institutions in the village, arresting residents, seizing roofs etc. There are occasions when the brigade commander can instruct how to disrupt, sometimes it is under the consideration of the commander in situ.” (emphasis mine)

The procedure as described by Virob is the same one known to Shmulik and Itsik as “showing presence.” Note that Virob says that sometimes the disruption (or, as our petition termed it, “a procedure dealing with an assault on a civilian community with means and ways intended to cause panic and fear, and with intent to disrupt normal life at that place”) is carried out according to the discretion of the local commander. “Livnat shibush” is another name, perhaps coined by another brigade (Kfir) for what Regional Brigade Shomron calls “showing presence.” Everyone knows it, and the Kfir Brigade Commander sees no problem with testifying about it.

It is important to note that our files document another case in which an officer threw a gas grenade into a house. In this case, IDF officers showed up to apologize in person, and the officer involved was quickly removed from command and jailed. The throwing of a smoke or gas grenade into a house, which may be deadly, is prohibited by the IDF in routine circumstances. Throwing the smoke grenade in Yanoun was clearly a violation of the procedure and further proof that the procedure is well known.

The IDF has a procedure which is used with the permission and direction of senior officers, silently and without documentation — its purpose is to terrorize innocent people. Israelis who follow the IDF know it has another such procedure, which comes to the surface everyone once in a while, when everyone pretends to be shocked: zubur, i.e. institutionalized, intra-unit violent hazing toward young soldiers. Time after time, soldiers are put on trial when violence spirals out of control, claim they were fall guys, since the officers knew of the procedure; the officers went through it themselves and accepted it as part of the unit culture. The public, which is routinely shocked by the violence shown by soldiers toward one another, ought to ask itself what sort of violence these soldiers allow themselves to use – with the knowledge and denied encouragement of their commanders – against transparent people whose lives are under their rule.

How does the army please settlers? By upping its violence against Palestinians

The settlers of Halamish told the IDF it isn’t being violent enough, a general  inform them that he knowingly uses unnecessary force. 10967814_1013498958679439_393266675_n

Near the Palestinian villages of Dir Nizam and Nabi Salah lies a settlement named Halamish, also known as Neve Tsuf.

About a month ago, after Palestinians threw stones at their vehicles, the settlers took the law into their own hands and began “securing” the road leading to the settlement. The IDF didn’t like the initiative, but – lo and behold – did not use their legal authority against  Israeli civilians carrying out military actions on their own initiative. Instead, they sent the commander of the AYOSH (Area of Judea and Samaria) Division, Brig. General Tamir Yade’I, to talk to the lawbreakers.

This conversation, published on the website of the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon (which includes recordings) is very interesting for several reasons. Take, for instance the comment by Gen. Yade’i after a short lecture about the differences between the military situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (listen at 4:37 in the first recording):

“I don’t want to say that we changed the rules of engagement, but we became a bit harsh with the people around here; in places where we’d fire [tear] gas or rubber [bullets] in the past, now we fire Ruger [bullets], and sometimes live [bullets]. If I remember the numbers correctly, we’ve had something like 25 people hurt here in the last three weeks.”

Hold it. If firing tear gas or rubber bullets was sufficient in the past, what necessitated the change? According to Yade’I, nothing changed and the threat level vis-à-vis the soldiers did not increase in any way. So what did change? Well, the atmosphere in the IDF, for one. The army decided to teach the Palestinians a lesson, and therefore increased the level of violence it uses towards them – regardless of the threat they represent. Yade’I's comments are not empty ones – they are mere attempts to boast. B’Tselem, which noticed Yade’I's comment, recorded a series of such shooting incidents (Hebrew).

The Ruger is a .22 caliber rifle, colloquially known in Hebrew as “Tutu,” whose bullet is a relatively weak live one. Rifles are, how shall I put it, deadly weapons. When Gen. Yade’I orders his troops to use a Ruger rifle or live bullets against demonstrators, he is using a deadly weapon that puts their lives at risk, especially when he knows such a risk is unwarranted. Prior to his new orders the IDF faced the same level of violence with rubber bullets (which may still be deadly, but the likelihood of death is smaller) and tear gas (which are not deadly except in rare cases – but may cause significant damage; and when the canister is fired using dead reckoning, i.e. directly at the victim, it may cause grievous bodily harm and even death).

Yade’I doesn’t “want to say we changed the rules of engagement,” but in practice, he did. Why? Considering the time and place where he made his comment, we fear that the IDF changed its rules of engagement in order to pacify the settlers. Yade’I even boasted before them over the number of Palestinian wounded.

What we see here is Yade’I attempts to defend the IDF’s actions to the settlers after the latter took part in unauthorized activity. The Mateh Binyamin Regional Council’s website reported the events in these words:

“Following the escalation of security incidents on the roads surrounding Neve Tsuf, which did not receive an adequate response by the security forces, the residents of the Neve Tsuf began securing the roads independently. The residents emphasized the problematic areas, as well as the critical hours in which residents drive to work and return home. The residents’ local committee notes that the Arab rioters in the area throw stones at all hours, but often from the same points. Therefore, the residents decided to take these positions which control the road, including the hill of Dir Nizam, the hills of ‘Abud and the hills of Dir Abu Mash’al. The committee of Neve Tsuf reported that as long as the feeling of security is not restored to the roads and the region, the activities for the security of the residents will continue, and that they may even consider further action.”

Immediately following the incident, and prior to the meeting between Yade’I and the settlers of Halamish, our attorney, Adv. Rony Pelli, sent a strong letter to the Commander of the Central Command and the Legal Counsel of AYOSH. She wrote, inter alia:

“The expected dangers from such an act ought not to be discounted. This announcement of the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council indicates an explicit intent to carry out violent offenses by the residents of the Neve Tsuf settlement on the roads near the settlement, contrary to law.”

Regarding our latest report about the civilian security coordinators, Pelli further noted that ” the privatization of law enforcement is taking another step forward. Not only Civilian Security Coordinators, but every resident of the settlement now considers themselves in charge of law and order enforcement.”

We were not yet aware of Yade’I's comments at the time Pelli’s comments were made . The IDF responded to her letter by writing that, “The IDF is using all the tools at its disposal, as required, in order to protect all the residents of the area, Palestinians and Israelis alike,” and that “along to speaking with the residents of the settlement, IDF forces carry out, together with the Israeli Police, actions to prevent this phenomenon.” According to the army, this includes “interrogating the participants in incidents where suspicion of law breaking arises.”

But the story doesn’t end here. At that very same event where Yade’I took pride in the fact that his forces shot about 25 people without due cause, sat a woman named Yael. Yael is described as a resident of the settlement for the past 31 years. According to the article, she says that the settlers, “learned in the past that only when they take matters into their own hands, is there some quiet for a long time. There was stone throwings – heaters were blown up in the village. There was stone throwing – some of their windows were broken. No one harmed anyone physically, everyone made certain only property was damaged. I believe in collective punishment and it’s a fact that following that we had six months of quiet.”

According to Yael, the residents asked her to relay a message that they do not want the IDF interfering with their activities. “You do your job, if you think you know how to do it, go for it. Don’t disturb us, we want to do our job and we know how to do our job. We think of every trip twice and think of scenarios – what happens if they throw stones or a Molotov cocktail, which kid do I pull out of the car first. Let us do our job. There will be some mess, so what?”

Yael, in other words, supports sowing fear among the Palestinian population, and even admits that she knows of these activities against “the village.” She demands that General Yade’I step aside and let her and her people act as they did in the past – harming the property of innocents in order to “get some quiet.”

And what does an IDF general do when he finds himself in the presence of an Israeli civilian who openly proclaims that she intends to harm the property of protected persons? Naturally, he does not detain her. Nor does he think of complaining to the police and turning over the information he received. Law? Justice? Yade’I isn’t there as senior law enforcement officer – he is there to present a report to people who can make his life very difficult.

So, again, a reminder: the duty of the IDF is to defend protected persons and their property. And now an IDF general tells us that he gave an order to increase the level of violence against them, which looks suspiciously like a peace offering to the settlers. This behavior isn’t new or unusual; our Road to Dispossession Report already noted that the army does not understand its duty to protect Palestinians. And the many incidents of “standing aside,” which means IDF soldiers do not stop settlers from attacking Palestinians (Hebrew) and sometimes even aiding them, is simply a manifestation of the IDF not understanding its legal functions.

The IDF claims, time and again, that it does not “choose its missions” – a claim that especially suits the army when faced with the argument that its very activity in the West Bank is political (this claim is often used against conscientious objectors). But General Yade’I shows us precisely how the IDF does choose its missions: it chooses not to use its legal authority against Jewish rioters, even when they are on the brink of rebellion, and it uses violence against Palestinians even when, by its own admission, it is unnecessary.

The IDF pretends to maintain the law in the West Bank; time and again, it uses the expression “illegal demonstration” or “disturbing the peace.” Listen to Yade’i: this is how the AYOSH Division Commander views the law – this is what he views as order.

This is what the IDF protects, but it has nothing to do with maintaining the law.

Four years, one dead Palestinian and a closed investigation

What does the investigation of the killing of a Palestinian by the MPCID look like? An utter waste of time.10935738_10152689554319001_246212021_o

On Friday, January 16th 2009, stormy demonstrations took place throughout the West Bank, as Operation Cast Lead was in full force. The Israeli media did not report the many civilian casualties caused by IDF fire in the Gaza Strip. The Arab media, however, reported on it extensively.

We wrote about a failed investigation by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID) about a shooting that day in Bil’in here. That same day in a demonstration in Hebron, someone in an Israeli uniform – probably an IDF sniper – fired one bullet at Musab Badwan Ashak Dan’a, 17, and killed him. Who the shooter was, we’ll never know. Whether the shooting was justified will remain unanswered; and the reason for that, as usual, is the the MPCID’s scandalously incompetent investigation.

In order to view the depth of the MPCID’s negligence, we shall cover the events in chronological order, as seen from the files of our attorney, Adv. Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, with the brisk aid of Adv. Osnat Barthor.

March 3, 2009 – Yesh Din calls MPCID-Jerusalem in order to present them with a statement about the case; we are told to submit the statement (the equivalent of a police complaint) to MPCID-Be’er Sheva, which we do on the same day.

May 8, 2009 – The father of the deceased, Nasser Badwan Dan’a, gives a statement to Hebron DCO. He complains that the authorities needed a long time to reach him. He describes his son’s death as murder, and provided the investigator with the following items:

A. A medical report from the Ahali Hospital in Hebron, describing the cause of death (one bullet to the head).

B. A death certificate.

C. Eight still photos of the deceased during the demonstration after he was shot, as well as in the hospital.

D. A still photo showing two Border Policemen (BP) pointing their weapons at the demonstration.

October 25, 2009 – More than five months after Nasser Badwan Dan’a’s testimony – and more than nine months since the incident – the MPCID holds its first investigation (aside from taking Dan’a's testimony). It interrogates one of the BP company commanders under warning. The officer says he made certain none of his troops used live fire, that he does not recognize the officers in the photo provided by Dan’a, that the photo may have been taken in any demonstration in Hebron and that he heard live fire from the area in which IDF forces (rather than the Border Police) were active.

November 24, 2009 – One month later, and more than 10 months since the Musab’s death. The MPCID investigates. It interrogates a second BP company commander under warning. The officer recognizes the two cops in the picture and confirms they were his men; he says that by the color of their magazines, they seem to be using rubber bullets – adding that he heard live fire from the direction of the IDF soldiers rather than from his own company.

It should be noted that the two BP officers emphasized that the use of live fire by the IDF is the result of the army lacking the proficiency needed to use non-lethal weapons. The second officer took pride in the fact that BP cops never fired live fire during a demonstration in Hebron.

February 18, 2010 – Three months after their last investigation and more than a year since the killing of Dan’a, MPCID investigators leaf through the operational logs of the Yehuda Regional Brigade. They find initial reports of the killing – but the logs do not show which specific unit was involved.

February 22, 2010 – Four days later (and 13 months after the killing), the MPCID manages to pin down the IDF battalion involved: the 96th Battalion (although the BP officers were under the impression it was the 94th Battalion). Hallelujah! The MPCID, enthusiastic about this breakthrough, decides to strike while the iron is frozen and takes a methodical break of almost eight months.

October 10. 2010 – The MPCID leafs through the Yehuda Regional Brigade morning reports, where it finds a report by a journalist claiming that a Palestinian was killed by live fire.

November 18, 2010 – Some six weeks later, and more than 22 months since the killing, the MPCID interrogates a company commander from  the 96th Battalion under warning. He says his troops certainly didn’t use live fire, since there was no reason for it. Furthermore, he claims to not have even heard live fire – unlike the BP officers who testified. At this point the MPCID takes a beauty sleep for some two months.

January 16, 2011 – Two years to the day since the killing of Dan’a, the MPCID investigators leisurely leaf through the morning reports of the 96th Battalion. They find nothing new and decide to make a phone call to Barak, the radioman of the company commander interrogated at the end of November 2010. Barak agrees to come and give his testimony two days later.

January 18, 2011 – He doesn’t show up. The MPCID’s investigator spends the next year (!) trying (but not too hard) to get Barak on the phone line. CUT!

Let’s take another look at what happened here: the MPCID interrogated an officer in November 2010 before trying to interrogate one of his men, letting a year go by without any other investigatory actions. That officer said he had eight or nine men with him. MPCID made no effort to find out who they were, nor did it try and take the testimony of other officers in his company. The MPCID’s investigator simply made a few phone calls to Barak. An entire year went by in an investigation of the death of a minor from live fire, and the MPCID did squat. This shows us how seriously it takes its role.

January 10, 2012 – Almost three years since the shooting incident, and a year after the first phone call, the MPCID manages to interrogate Barak under warning. Note that since three years have passed, and since a soldier can only be indicted one year after discharge, and since mandatory service lasts three years, the odds that MPCID has the ability to indict Barak (except under highly unusual circumstances) are rather small. Assuming Barak was a suspect, he had (1) a year to get his story straight and (2) a clear understanding he was in no real danger. Barak tells the investigators he is certain that no one fired live bullets, and that the squad he was with had only non-lethal rounds in their magazines.

March 20, 2012 – Two years after interrogating Barak, the MPCID speaks to his officer again. The latter says that since more than three years have passed, and since this wasn’t the Battle of Iwo Jima, he cannot recall which weapons were used by his men.

And frankly, I believe him. Neither would I.

April 17, 2012 – The MPCID holds what it calls “an addendum to the investigation,” which sounds like it is running around its own tail. It’s trying to get Lt. Na’ama, an operations officer in the Yehuda Regional Brigade, to see if she can find which journalist reported that Dan’a was wounded on January 16th. Na’ama cannot recall. Would you recall a phone conversation made three years earlier?

April 30, 2012 – Only two weeks later, a wonder of alacrity given its sluggishness so far, the MPCID turns to human rights organization B’Tselem and asks for the medical documents relating to Dan’a's death. The frustrated investigator writes that B’Tselem didn’t get back to him.

Wait, what?

As noted earlier, Dan’a's father gave these exact documents to an investigator at the Hebron DCO on May, 18, 2009 18.5.09 – almost three years earlier. Either the MPCID was unaware of that or it managed to lose the documents. This, admittedly, would no longer surprise me.

That same day, the MPCID’s investigator makes two phone calls. One is to the operations officer of the 96th Battalion, asking for more details about the incident. There are no such details. The second phone call is to the Hebron DCO, trying to find out whether there were Palestinian policemen on the scene at the time of the incident, and whether they fired live bullets.

Which is interesting, since the MPCID has two testimonies of BP officers saying they heard live fire coming from the direction of the IDF soldiers. And since the MPCID did not investigate the 96th Battalion properly, it looks like a desperate attempt to blame someone else.

May 6, 2012 – In internal memos, the MPCID complains that it cannot find the medical documents turned over to it on May 18, 2009.

June 24, 2013 – More than a year later, and more than four years since the killing of 17-year-old Musab Badwan Ashak Dan’a, the Military Prosecution closes the case. There is no evidence, it says. Really.

To sum up: two Border Police officers said they heard live fire from the direction of the IDF force; the only IDF officer that the MPCID bothered to interrogate said there was no live fire and that there was no reason for it. And when the investigation ends, we have the body of a 17-year-old with a bullet through his head. Not the legs – the head. Remember this incident, for the next time the Military Prosecution will surely tell you the IDF can investigate itself. This is what its investigation – assuming you can call this disgrace an investigation – looks like.

Giving in to the command from above

The prime minister and the defense minister will transfer 70 million NIS from the defense budget to compensate the Ulpana Hill lawbreakers. How will the common soldier interpret the command’s will?YD_07.01-en

Channel 10 exposed earlier this week another layer in the unending saga of Ulpana Hill: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon agreed to transfer 70 million NIS from the security budget as part of the Ulpana Hill compensation deal. Meaning: the tax money that was to be spent on defending the citizens of Israel will, in fact, be transferred to settlers as compensation for implementing the High Court of Justice’s ruling.

Here we need a brief summary of the Ulpana Hill affair. Since the beginning of 1996, the Palestinian landowners of what eventually became Ulpana Hill were denied access to their land (you can read an interview with one of them here.) The residents believed the reason was related military, but in fact the Company for the Development of the Yeshiva Town in the settlement of Beit El began building five houses there in 2003. At one point the company quickly populated the then-empty houses. Yesh Din appealed to the HCJ on behalf of the landowners in 2008 (the land, after all, is private Palestinian land), and after a long struggle the government removed the settlers, sawed the houses, promising to move them to a new location and gave up after spending millions on the project (Hebrew).

The government then promised Rabbi Zalman Melamed, the head of the Beit El Yeshiva, a massive compensation package. According to reports in the media (Hebrew), the package included funding for the enlargement of Beit El, including some 300 private apartments and several public buildings. We should note that at the moment, we have an appeal pending before the HCJ against the state, demanding that then-CEO of Company for the Development of the Yeshiva Town in Beit El, Yoel Tzur, be indicted, along with the company itself. In his police interrogation, Tzur said that although he did not have a building permit, he assumed that as the Ministry of Housing was involved in funding the project, and therefore was allowed to build. And build he did. Despite these very clear words, Tzur was not indicted.

Therefore, Yesh Din asked the HCJ on Monday for an order to provide further details. In the request, our legal counsel, Adv. Michael Sfard, asked that the General Attorney force Yoel Tzur and the Company for the Development of the Yeshiva Town in Beit El to provide all the details of the deal between the government and the yeshiva, including all sums of money spent on it so far. These details, noted Sfard, are necessary for the hearing on the appeal regarding the indictment of Tzur and the Company for the Development of the Yeshiva Town in Beit El. Since the government did not comply with our request to provide us with the information, we turned to the court.

The 70 million shekels Netanyahu and Ya’alon now want to invest in the removal of an IDF base from Beit El, in order to turn the land over to the Beit El Yeshiva, are part of the same deal they reached with Melamed. We should remind the reader that the duty of the government is to enforce the law, The duty of the IDF soldiers in the West Bank, according to international law and a host of HCJ rulings, is to protect Palestinians and their property.

But when the proverbial soldier on the ground comes to do his duty, assuming he is even aware of it, what does he see? He sees the defense minister – the government’s appointed overseer of the army (i.e. his commander) – and the prime minister conspiring with the settlers who stole Palestinian property. He sees that the crime of taking Palestinian property and invading does not only go unpunished – it is rewarded. And he understands the will of command pretty quickly.

The cop on his beat, we know, is the last absolute ruler. He can either arrest a person for nothing, or he can overlook a minor infraction. Soldiers in the West Bank are, in effect,  cops – at least until the police arrive. They have the power detain a person, and when they see Israeli civilians invading Palestinian land, they know their problem is not only with the CSC (a quasi-military official who actually promotes the interests of the settlement where he resides). At that moment they realize that this is the will from above. They understand that their function is to enforce not the law, but the will of the settlers.

An army is a hierarchical organization. It relies on the concept of “do as I do.” No junior officer will put his career at risk when the defense minister makes it so clear that he stands on the opposite side. This affects not only soldiers, but officials of the Civil Administration – those who are supposed to swiftly issue demolition orders to the invaders. Clashing with the darlings of the minister, who happens to be your boss, is not a career-enhancing move. Act slowly, or better yet, act not at all.

The government would be hard-pressed to claim, after the last move by Netanyahu and Ya’alon, that it takes seriously its duty to protect Palestinian property. The soldiers on the ground already know that these are less than empty gestures. They already know what they should do the next time they encounter settlers taking over land and Palestinian owners protesting the theft.

For years the government pretended that there is a wall between it and those who invade the land. That what they do is unlawful, that the government views their actions with a dim eye. But since it is unable to act – there are always more urgent missions – it cannot help the owners at this precise moment. Perhaps in the future.

This mask has slowly come off over the years, and now nothing is left behind it. And this is, admittedly, hardly news: the Sasson Report, published over a decade ago, already noted that the widespread law-breaking in the West Bank requires the active participation of almost all government offices; that the officials and the enforcers on the ground have long ago internalized the notion that seizing land and building outposts on it are “positive actions, or at the least, not reprehensible.”

And this mask of good faith on behalf of the government eroded years ago. The only question left is whether the courts will deign to see what is in front of their eyes.

Reclaiming the land: Kharbi Khassan returns to Jabl Artis

One of our legal successes was the removal of “Ulpana Hill”, known to Palestinians as Jabl Artis. Recently we even managed to have one of the land owners visit his land. This is what he had to say.yd-22.12-1

One of our greatest and most significant successes has been the removal of “Ulpana Hill,” a neighborhood illegally built near Kiyrat Hayeshiva in Beit El on private Palestinian land. Following our petition, the High Court of Justice ruled that the structures built there be removed. But despite the fact that the Court acknowledged that the land belongs to the Palestinian residents and may not be used for private purposes, access to the land – physically located within the settlement of Beit El – is very limited to Palestinians.

At the end of October, we managed to grant one of our petitioners, Kharbi Ibrahim Mustafa Khassan, permission to visit his land, though he was not allowed to cultivate it. Another petititoner, Khaled ‘Abdallah ‘Abd Al Ghani Yassid – the son of the original petitioner, Mahbuba Muhammad Said Yassin, who passed away during the legal procedure – was not granted permission. We are continuing to act to change that. Prior to Mustafa’s visit to his land, we interviewed him.

Let’s begin with the basics. What is your name and age? How long have you been living here?

My name is Kharbi Ibrahim Mustafa Khassan, and I will be 74 years old in two months. I was born here in 1940. I studied in the U.S. and am a business management professor. I used to teach ùà Beir Zeit University, and now I’m a pensioner. I last visited the land in 1996.

Did you try to go there without a legal procedure?

They did not allow us to go to the place; they declared it a closed military area, and any one who tried to get close would be shot. Someone was actually shot to death there in 1996. We don’t know whether he was shot by soldiers or by settlers.

[Note: To the best of our knowledge, Kharbi's plot was never under and official military closing order, and this was probably an oral order, unsupported by writ – Yossi Gurvitz]

But this closed military zone was closed to Palestinians, not Israelis?

Correct.

How did you use the land before it was taken?

We have grown grapes on our land since the 1940s, and in fact we used to send those grapes to Tel Aviv. In 1947, as a young boy of seven, I was responsible for taking the grapes down from the mountain on a donkey to a truck. Some people from the town of Lod would ask anyone who had grapes to put them in boxes, and they would take them to Tel Aviv. The grapes were fantastic. Everything changed after 1967.

What happened then?

The land was declared a closed military zone, and the soldiers used to train there. We were allowed to visit the land only one day a week – Saturday – because there’s no training on Saturday. But if you are a farmer, you cannot cultivate the land in one day. And I know that people who grow olives still have permission to visit the land for only one or two days, and only during certain hours. What can they do? Therefore many people simply abandon the land.

So the land was used since 1967 for training purposes, and since 1996 was turned into a settlement?

We don’t know exactly when. We did not have regular access to the land. Many times they brought trailers there and turned them into homes. Many people in the area were afraid to go to court.

But you weren’t afraid.

Fortunately I have American citizenship and since I live in Jerusalem I also an [Israeli] ID. We went to court because of the aid of people like Yesh Din. Otherwise…

Do you think that people without these privileges – American citizenship or Jerusalem residency in Jerusalem – wouldn’t go to court?

They may have access to the court, but they are afraid to go to the court.

They have the potential, but not in reality?

Exactly. If you live in the Palestinian Authority area (Area A), how can you even get to Jerusalem? And those privileges are not as they once were. The Israeli ID doesn’t mean much. All that matters is that you are an Arab. In the past when the soldiers saw the American passport, they’d put it on their heads (what does this mean?). But in the 1990s, I saw them put it on the ground. It is getting difficult to enter Jerusalem: going through the Qalandia Checkpoint can take two or three hours. Why?

Three hours?

Yes! Sometimes it takes me six hours to travel 500 meters. The soldiers decide when to open and close the checkpoints. They spend time conversing among themselves, drinking coffee and making jokes for half an hour. They don’t care. And when someone talks back, they search them…photo 2-1

Are you happy with the results of the process?

Absolutely. There is no doubt we are happy to get our land back. Nevertheless, I need permits whenever I want to reach my land. I am sure they will come up with some problem at the last moment. [We should note that Kharbi actually was allowed to visit his land, accompanied by our attorney, Adv. Anu Lusky]  I’m supposed to come alone, without tools.

Did they allow you a shovel, at least?

No, nothing.

You’re supposed to work the land with your bare hands?

I’m not allowed to work the land! The land is legally ours; the court decided so. In practice it isn’t ours. They told me I have to go there with Israeli soldiers; I refused. I don’t trust these soldiers. I would only go if accompanied by a Yesh Din lawyer.

Given all the restrictions, why are you happy with the results?

We are happy that the buildings were removed, that the court recognized our legal papers, and we hope that the land of the entire town (1,500 dunams) will be restored. We want to have roads so that we can visit our lands.

The next question may sound offensive, but I hope you don’t take offense. It is meant to provoke, not to offend. You are probably aware that in Israel, we have something called “The Milky Protest:” Young people don’t have any economic prospects and are thinking about emigrating. And here you are, an American citizen, living under hardship most Israelis can’t even imagine – and yet you stay, even though you can leave. Why is that?

It’s a very difficult question to answer, but to us, land is very dear. I was born here, my father was born here, my grandfather was born here; my family goes back more than 500 years. In your own thinking, the Jews have lived in Palestine 2,500 years ago – they did not forget their land. They still claim “this land is ours.” How do they say in Hebrew, “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither?”

 First photo: Kharbi Khassan and Khaled Yassid during the interview. photo by Yossi Gurvitz. Second photo: Kharbi Khassan sitting on the remains of the “Ulpana Hill”. photo by Yesh Din.

MPCID and the prosecution present: How to whittle an investigation away

Protest Against the Wall, Bil\'in, West Bank, 1.11.2013Someone shot a bullet at Ashraf Muhammad Jamal Tufiq’s foot in Bil’in in 2009. The IDF’s investigatory bodies did their best to make sure they will never find the shooter.

On Friday, January 16 2009, someone – a member of the Israeli security forces – fired a bullet into the foot of Ashraf Muhammad Jamal Tufiq from the West Bank village Bil’in. According to Tufiq, the shooting occurred without any provocation and came after the weekly demonstration ended. As a result of his injury, Tufiq had to undergo an operation and had to give up on being a professional a soccer player. On November 4, 2013, the Operational Affairs Prosecution closed the case, reaching the conclusion that it contains no evidence whatsoever.

Hold on, you say, you’ve made an error. You’re saying the shooting took place on January 2009, but the case closed in November 2013. That’s more than four years between one event and another. You must have made a mistake.

No mistake. This is the heart of the issue. I’ll present the chronology of events based on the work of Adv. Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man. But before we start, we should note that Tufiq’s testimony is not  bereft of problems, and that at certain points he even contradicts himself. The fact, however, is that he was shot and became a cripple. A quick investigation might have found out what actually took place. But, as we can see from the flow of events below, that did not exactly happen.

January 16, 2009 – A Friday demonstration in Bil’in, and it’s more violent than usual. The soldier in question will later remember the events because, unusually, another soldier was wounded. After the demonstration, a member of the security forces shoots Tufiq. He is taken to a hospital and, with our aid, submits a notice (the equivalent of a complaint to the police) to the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID).

May 24, 2009 – More than four months after the incident, the Jerusalem branch of the MPCID confirm they have received the notice.

July 7, 2009 – The Operational Affairs’ prosecution informs us that it is dealing with the case.

August 4, 2009 – The Operational Affairs’ prosecution informs us that it has frozen the investigation in order to “clarify the issue with military officials.” This, in effect, means the investigation is delayed while the case is referred to an operation debriefing.

February 14, 2010 – Thirteen months after the incident: the Operational Affairs’ prosecution says the case is under consideration.

October 14, 2010 – Twenty-one months after the incident: the Operational Affairs’ prosecution says the case is under consideration.

April 14, 2011 – Two years and three months (!) after the incident: the Operational Affairs’ prosecution says the case is under consideration.

November 29, 2011 – Two years and 10 months after the incident: reports that Atlantis has risen from the sea, fish are climbing trees, cats and dogs have foresworn their ancient enmity, and MPCID has re-opened its investigation.

Which is nice, but there are two main problems with opening an investigation so late in the game:

1. The chances of finding evidence is nil. There is no crime scene to speak of, particularly since the incident took place before the IDF has deigned to obey the ruling of the High Court of Justice and moved the separation fence in Bil’in. Also, human memory blurs rapidly.

2. Even if there was evidence, once a soldier has been discharged from the army for six months (or a year, in extreme cases) he or she is no longer under the jurisdiction of military law. Given that mandatory military service in the IDF lasts for three years for men, even if the MPCID had found the culprit on the day in which it began its investigation (which, naturally, did not happen) chances are that they would not have been able to bring him to trial. Only the Attorney General can decide to do so – which hardly ever happens in practice.

And after this methodical break, back to our chronicle:

December 8, 2011 – MPCID Jerusalem contacts us and wants to set up an interview with the victim. After a series of delays – including one case in which Tufiq comes to a meeting set up by MPCID and finds no one who can take his statement – MPCID finally takes a statement from him on December 30, 2012, i.e. two months after the resurrection of the investigation.

February 9, 2012 – The MPCID interviews the operations officer of the battalion involved in the incident. He says he doesn’t remember anything, which sounds perfectly plausible. After all, this was a negligent incident from a military point of view, not to mention the fact that more than three years have passed since it happened.

February 20, 2012 – The MPCID receives the translation of the medical reports regarding Tufiq’s wound, which the Operational Affairs’ prosecution could easily have obtained some three years earlier. But let’s not be petty.

March 11, 2012 – Three weeks later, the MPCID interviews the operations officer once again. He says he doesn’t even remember which forces were involved in the incident. Since, well, three years have passed, and it wasn’t exactly the Battle of the Bulge.

8.3.12 – The MPCID interviews the battalion commander. He claims there was no shooting during the incident, much less live shooting. He adds that it is inconceivable his patrol troops would lie on this issue.

March 11, 2012 – The MPCID interviews the battalion commander again, who says that given the time that has gone by, his outfit no longer has any documents relating to the incident.

March 13, 2012 – The MPCID tries, without success, to gain access to the operational logs. Given the passage of time, they were not kept.

July 25, 2012 – More than four months after the last investigative action took place, the MPCID interviews another officer – this time a major. He does not think there was live fire.

July 31, 2012 – The MPCID investigators interview another officer, a Lt. Colonel. He does not even remember over whom he presided at the time. After all, this was more than three years since the incident.

August 1, 2012 – After a delay of three years and seven months, the MPCID decides to interrogate the platoon commander under legal warning. He remembers the soldier who was wounded, thinks there may have been a Ruger bullet fired but is not certain and remembers that there was a report about a wounded Palestinian when he got back to base. The officers interviewed earlier did not remember this detail. One should note that his testimony, where he says a live bullet may have been fired, contradicts the testimony of his battalion commander. And since he was closer to the incident, we should give more weight to his testimony.

October 28, 2012 – Nearly three months after the latest investigation, the MPCID interrogates the wounded soldier. He us convinced there was no live fire, not by him at any rate. He claims that he kept asking for permission to use live fire. His request was denied and he used rubber bullets instead.

November 11, 2012 – The MPCID interrogates another soldier in the section under warning. The soldier also remembers that they fired rubber bullets – not live ones.

November 16, 2012 – The MPCID interrogates the sergeant major of the force under warning. He denies any sort of shooting, saying the forces used only tear gas grenades. This testimony is contradicted by all the other testimonies.

December 18, 2012 – The MPCID interrogates yet another soldier, who says they fired rubber bullets and believes there was no live fire.

December 18, 2012 – The MPCID interviews a medical officer, a Lt. Colonel, who says there is no point in interviewing Border Policemen, since their outfit carries out such actions on a weekly basis, and thus they won’t remember a thing. He seems to be right; there is no evidence of MPCID trying to interview Border Policemen.

November 4, 2013 – We’ve come to the end of this comedy of errors: nearly a year after the last investigation, and four years and 10 months after Tufiq was shot, the Operational Affairs’ prosecution closes case, citing lack of evidence.

So what had we here? A failure from beginning to end. The investigation began almost three years after the incident, and from the start it was doubtful whether it ever stood a chance. Too much time had passed.

But there is an even more important point to make here. Almost all the witnesses contradict each other. The battalion commander says only rubber bullets were fired – but the platoon commander thinks there may have been a Ruger bullet fired. The sergeant major thinks only gas was used, while all other witnesses report the use of rubber bullets. The medical documents speak clearly of a live bullet. Did someone pull the Beitunia trick by firing a live bullet and masquerading as if it were a rubber bullet? We’ll never know.

The IDF keeps telling us it needs to hold an operational debriefing – that it needs its soldiers to tell the truth during the debriefing. Therefore, it claims, the debriefing must not be turned over to MPCID as evidence. But note what happened: after almost three years wasted by the Operational Affairs’ prosecution, nobody has a clue as to what happened. The officers cannot even remember their order of battle. No one is sure about what kind of ammunition was actually used. There is a vague Border Police force in the area of operations, but no one knows what it did. The operational logs no longer exist.

If this the situation, what is the purpose of the operational debriefing? Ostensibly it is supposed to provide the forces with insight into the events so they can improve their tactics. But if no one remembers what was said in it, what is it really good for? And why can’t the MPCID investigation run parallel to it, rather than months afterward?

The Turkel Commission, which dealt with the behavior of the military investigative bodies, recommended that an investigation ought to be swift. Two years before Turkel’s recommendations, the JAG decided to hold MPCID investigations (after an appeal by B’Tselem and ICRI) – in cases of death only – in parallel to the operational debriefing. We have some indications that MPCID is beginning to internalize and implement the Turkel Commission recommendations, with an emphasis on speedier investigations. But in the meantime, the investigation of the shooting of Ashraf Muhammad Jamal Tufiq stands as Exhibit A that the IDF doesn’t know how and perhaps doesn’t want to investigate itself.

Illustration photo: Israeli border police officers shooting tear gas canisters during the weekly protest against the Wall in the West Bank village of Bil’in, November 1, 2013. Photo by Activestills.

Who is really obstructing justice in the West Bank?

A Palestinian worker filed a complaint to the police after he was assaulted by his Israeli employer. The police closed the case within a day – with no investigation whatsoever.dogsofwar

Sometimes you wonder why the Samaria and Judea Police Department (SJPD) even bothers taking statements from Palestinians when it doesn’t even intend to pretend to investigate them. The case before us is just one of many.

Earlier this year, Ahmed Id Muhammad Barakat worked in a petting zoo belonging to the settlement Givon Ha’Hadasha. His employer, B., had another Israeli employee who we shall call E. When it was time to pay Barakat, B. apologized and said he was short on funds, and promised to pay in 40 days. Forty days later, on August 17th, Barakat and his cousin came to Givon Ha’Hadasha to get his money. Upon his arrival an argument broke out between him, B. and E. B. wanted Barakat to go back home, saying that he will call him when he had the money. Barakat insisted that since he was already there, he should be given what is rightfully his.

At one point, as Barakat noted in his complaint to the police, E. asked Barakat to come with him to a nearby warehouse. Barakat followed him, thinking he was about to receive his pay and that E. didn’t want to have an argument in the presence of other clients. To his shock, E. siced a dog on him. Barakat managed to escape the dog, but not before E. physically attacked him. E. then left the area, only to return with a knife. When Barakat saw E. approach he fled the settlement, along with his cousin.

The police were called, and here something unusual happened: Barakat noted in his statement to the police that the cops asked E. to show them his ID card, E. said he was going to retrieve it – and fled instead. Lo and behold: even though the cops knew his identity, they did not try to chase or arrest him. This is how Barakat described the incident in his statement to the police.

This all took place on August 17th. On the following day, the police showed unusual alacrity and closed the case – not by recommending that E. be tried, but by declaring a “lack of public interest” in the case.

Let’s give a brief rundown the incident, according to the detailed statement given to the police:

A. A Jew used, according to the statement, excessive violence (physical assault, unleashing a dog, threatening with a knife) toward a Palestinian.

B. There were several witnesses to the incident. The police did not bother taking their statements.

C. There were security cameras present, and the police did not bother to gather the footage, despite the fact that the complainant noted the presence of cameras to the police.

D. The police knew the identity of the suspect.

E. The statement notes that the suspect fled from the police, thus committing the offense of obstructing a police officer.

F. The police did not bother to find the suspect afterward the incident.

G.  And to top it all of, they closed the case – in just 24 hours! – citing the “lack of public interest” clause, which may not be used in cases of severe assault.

Hold on, what was that noise? Oh, right – my jaw hitting the ground.

Now, if you thought the police acted rather quickly, let us correct you. They closed the case on August 18th, but only bothered informing us – Yesh Din, as Barakat’s attorneys – on September 14th – almost a month after the incident. Furthermore, the police only granted Yesh Din permission to photocopy Barakat’s police file on October 13th – nearly two months after the incident. And after a long series of evasions, we managed to photocopy the file on October 30th. All in all, the police needed a day to close a criminal case using a ridiculous clause, but needed more than two months to provide the relevant documents.

At the end of November, our attorney Noa Amrami appealed the police’s decision to close Barakat’s case. In her appeal, Amrami demanded the police take one of two actions: either they act to immediately bring E. to trial, since the law finds one testimony sufficient for an indictment. The other option was that, at the very least, the police re-open the case, and investigate it properly this time around.

We’ll keep you posted.

365 Days a Year, deprived of rights

10846337_977036088992393_8860378040633181090_nWe appealed to the HCJ, demanding the removal of the Adei Ad outpost, whose very existence causes severe harm to its neighbours’ rights

Last Wednesday, December 10th, was the International Human Rights Day, and no day was more fitting for submitting a petition to the High Court of Justice. Alongside the council chiefs of the West Bank villages Jalud, Al Mughayer and Turmusaya, Yesh Din demanded on Tuesday the removal of the illegal outpost Adei Ad, which was the focus of our 2013 report, The Road to Dispossession.

Generally when we demand the removal of an outpost, we rely on planning and zoning laws. Those very laws are indeed relevant in the case of Adei Ad: every structure in the outpost was illegally constructed, and there is a demolition order against each of them – orders that the Commanding General, Central Command and the Civil Administration choose time and again not to enforce. But in the case of Adei Ad, our claim goes even deeper: the problem with the outpost is not merely the fact that it violates planning laws, but rather that the very existence of the outpost necessarily leads to human rights violations against the residents of the neighbouring villages.

To quote our petition:

“The illegality of the outpost and its structures isn’t just an offense against the principle of the rule of law and the principle of rightful government action – but its very existence, and the need to provide protection to its residents, necessarily lead to irreparable harm to the quality of life of the petitioners, and to their ability to exercise their enshrined basic rights. As a direct result, the existence of the outpost leads to conflict, to expressions of violence, to vandalism and to the enlargement of land expropriation, as the petitioners are not present to oversee and protect their private property.”

The outpost of Adei Ad sits on land belonging to the villages of Jalud, Al Mughayer, Qaryut and Turmusaya. Twenty-six percent of the constructed area of the outpost sits atop private Palestinian land, while the rest was built on “public land” allotted by the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization (Hebrew). The Palestinian agricultural land around the outpost is classified as private and unregistered.. As a direct result of the building of the outpost, residents of the four villages have systematically lost access to their land and found themselves victims of violence by Israeli civilians. Between 1998 and 2012 we managed to document 96 criminal incidents around the outpost. It is important to note that these are not all the criminal incidents that took place near the outpost, but merely those we managed to document (the actual number must be assumed to be significantly higher). Most of the incidents consisted of theft or vandalism, although 22 percent included physical assault or threats by use of a weapon. The Samaria and Judea Police Department (SJPD), as usual, proved incompetent: of the 56 cases in Yesh Din documented a complaint filed with the police, 46 – 80 percent – were closed due to the failure of the police investigation. We must further note that since April 2013, when our report was published, Yesh Din investigators documented 13 more incidents around Adei Ad, one of which included violence.

The violence surrounding Adei Ad has a clear, ideological reason: to strike fear in the heart of the Palestinians and dispossess them of their land. Israeli civilians have taken over this land rapidly: in 1998 the size of the outpost was 15,554 square meters; in 2010 it ballooned into 465,331 square meters, growing some 30 times in size. At the time our report was published, 26 families lived in Adei Ad.

Due to the presence of these 26 families, the situation of the villages whose land was taken over by Adei Ad has deteriorated greatly. The fear of working your land with the knowledge that you may be attacked by outlaws, that no one will protect you and that the area’s ruler will turn a blind eye, leads Palestinians to abandon their villages. While we do not have data on Al Mughayer and Turmusaya, we do know that 6,000 people have already left Qaryut, leaving only 2,800 residents. Of the 1,000 residents of Jalud, 400 have abandoned the village.

The very presence of Adei Ad harms the right of the Palestinians to their property with the support of the authorities (these are mostly agrarian communities who make their livelihood off of the land). As soon as the outpost was built, the army hastened to declare areas around it as closed off to Palestinians. Sometimes these took the form of undocumented, oral orders (which cannot be appealed), while other times these were official orders. But when the rights of the Palestinians to the land collided with the lack of rights of the squatters, the army stood (and continues to stand) by the latter time and time again. This harms not just the right of the Palestinians to their land, located in Area C and under full Israeli military and civil control, but also their right to freedom of movement and right to work.

And all this so that 26 families can lord over a territory of 465,321 square meters (not including a much larger region around the outpost, where Palestinians are routinely denied entry). The economic existence of four villages is endangered – leaving their residents defenseless in the face of ideological violence – in the name of 26 families of the chosen people, who are sentenced in one justice system while their neighbours are sentenced in another.

Yet Adei Ad is but one outpost. There are about 100 of them, and a 100 more proper settlements. The story of Adei Ad is important, and the petition for its removal is essential, as the outpost is a microcosm mirroring the macrocosm: it shines a light on the status of millions of Palestinians whose human rights are violated daily, both by Israeli civilians who break the law with impunity, as well as the authorities who protect those very criminals. Authorities who supply the outposts with their very livelihood, employ violence against the Palestinians on behalf of the outpost residents and deny Palestinians their right to demonstrate – all while glossing over this whole massive violation of rights under the pretense that they are defending themselves against “disorder.”

And what is this very order whose disruption the authorities fear so much? The order is ‘Adei ‘Ad: the systematic overtaking of land while terrorizing the residents in order to drive them to despair over their inability to maintain their property, their rights, their honor. Our Minister of the Economy calls it “the tranquilizing plan,” whose stated goal is the annexation of Area C. Twenty years earlier Rechavam Zeevi called it “the quiet population transfer,” which sought to make the lives of the Palestinians so unbearable to the point that they simply leave. In Qaryut and Jalud, the system has already proven itself.

The removal of Adei Ad, a bleeding boil, will not end the occupation. There are, as previously mentioned, many outposts and settlements. It will, however, make a statement: it will say that a quiet, tenacious, non-violent struggle has a chance. It will state that in the end, people can reclaim their rights. It will declare that sometimes committing a crime carries a price. One can barely conceive of a greater gift in honor of International Human Rights Day. Here is a test for the court the calls itself the High Court of Justice. Will it pass?

Read the full petition (Hebrew)