Forget about the law – don’t get me in trouble

IDF soldiers have a duty to protect Palestinian residents, but many of them choose to stand aside. A case in point. post-pic2

We recently published our newest report, “Standing Idly By,” which deals with the phenomenon of IDF soldiers avoiding both protecting Palestinians attacked by Israeli nationals and aiding law enforcement authorities in investigating violations carried out by the Israeli nationals. The case of R. will serve as case study. We must mention that this isn’t, of course, the first case of its kind.

One morning in the beginning of April 2015, R. took out his goats to pasture. At one point, he thought some of the goats had strayed from his flock, and went uphill to look for them. When he reached the goats, he realized they were not his and turned back.

As he was climbing down, a white jeep with flashing lights stopped in front of him, and out came two men, one of whom was armed. R. recognized the armed man as the CSC of a nearby settlement. The CSC demanded R. come over to him, but R. refused. He went down the hill and took his flock home.

A few minutes later, after R. and another herder managed to get to the house with their goats, R. suddenly noticed three vehicles and a quad bike advancing towards his home. R. had just enough time to close the windows and lock the doors, before ten Israeli nationals, all armed, began pounding at the door—one of them began climbing the house’s wall.

The fact that Israeli nationals may not enter a Palestinian’s house without the owner’s permission did not deter them, nor did it prevent one of them from attempting to climb the wall. A few minutes later, three IDF jeeps also made it to the scene. According to R., the soldiers noticed the settler trying to climb the fence, but did not prevent him from doing so.

R. opened his door to the soldiers—at which point he and the other herder were promptly handcuffed. R. said that while he was handcuffed one of the settlers entered the yard and began beating him. According to R., the soldiers did not prevent the assault, nor did they detain the attacker or call the police; they simply dragged the two goatherds to the police station. R. was detained for three days under suspicion of entering a settlement and stealing goats, before being released—without being interrogated or standing trial. The soldiers who handcuffed him told him nothing about the reason for his detainment.

Beyond the question whether R. did steal goats or not—as mentioned above, he was not put on trial—the IDF troops reached R.’s house, saw an Israeli national trying to invade it without authority, and did nothing. They later saw that Israeli national beating R. while he was handcuffed—and did nothing.

Note, and this is important, that they had all the authority they needed to detain the settler until the police arrived. This wasn’t just their right; this was their duty.

Every soldier has the basic duty, anchored in international law and dozens of High Court of Justice rulings (as well in, as of last year, IDF regulations) to protect the local (Palestinian) population of the West Bank and its property. But a majority of IDF soldiers don’t even know the definition of their duty (on this, at length, see our report). They don’t know what a protected person is. They don’t know that it is their duty to protect Palestinians. They know, however, what the spirit of command wants of them: don’t get in trouble with the settlers. Forget about the law—don’t get me in trouble now. That’s what standing idly by is. The soldiers know that if they stand in the settlers’ way they’ll get in trouble, but that nothing will happen to them if they stand aside. The IDF, for its part, maintains ambiguity and provides its soldiers with very partial training regarding this problem, which has been documented since the Karp Report in the early 1980s. Soldiers know what they may do when it comes to a law-breaking Palestinian; they haven’t a clue how to deal with an Israeli one.

As for the Jewish marauder who attacked R.? Nothing will happen to him. R. decided not to complain to the police. To quote him, “I do not intend to lodge a complaint with the police since I am afraid of the army, the settlers, the police and judges.” He is so afraid, he won’t agree to publish his name.

So it goes.

Who is afraid of nationalist crimes?

The prosecution thinks that Israeli civilians who attack Palestinians and setting their trees on fire do not merit prosecutionShayNitzan-18.06.15

From time to time, the country is shaken by a particularly severe case of nationalist crimes against Palestinians, often in the form of an arson or desecration of a religious site. After each such incident, we are faced with the usual ritual: senior government or police officials stare into the cameras with a determined gaze; call the acts unconscionable; that they take the incident with a full measure of responsibility and severity; that this is not how a Jewish state acts; and that zero tolerance will be shown. These rituals usually appear against a backdrop of fear that this time the cup will finally runneth over, shattering the sacred “quiet” in the West Bank. But after a short while, everything is back to normal.

We can see just how seriously the government takes nationalist crimes from the following case. On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Bracha, allegedly made their way to the land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to the witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them older than a century. Furthermore, they attacked the villagers with stones and in a few cases with clubs, and stoned the houses of the village. On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.

In August 2011, i.e. more than a year after the incident, the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned to the attention of a prosecutor – that is the last we heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update us that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and tried to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.

To the utter surprise of our attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the case files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border Policemen detained two Israeli civilians – A. and M. – after police officers testified that they saw them throwing stones at Palestinians.

The testimony of a cop, as well as the detention of suspects at the scene, is generally enough cause for prosecutorial action, particularly since the government take nationalist crime seriously, as it keeps claiming. Therefore, we appealed the decision to close the case in December 2013, demanding of A. and M. be prosecuted on suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer; we also demanded that the investigation into the question of who attacked one of our clients with an iron rod and set his olive grove on fire continue.

That’s when events took a surrealistic turn. In response to our appeal, the prosecution claimed that they are well aware that there is enough evidence to indict A. and M., but said it would not do so – since it sees no reason to interfere with the decision of the Police Prosecution Unit, which closed the case for lack of public interest.

According to the prosecution, since both sides engaged in stone throwing, and since there is no precise information about how the incident began, and since there was no equivalent interrogation of Palestinian suspects, there is simply no public interest in putting the Israeli marauders on trial.

To quote our sarcastic reply, sent in April by Attorney Noa Amrami: “To sum, two Israeli civilians woke up one morning, arrived at the village of Burin and the homes and land of our clients, threw stones at them and beat them. Is there any doubt here as to who is the attacker and who the defender? With all due respect, we are not dealing with a kids’ squabble at school here, but with a criminal, methodical action of terrorizing the villagers of Burin, who suffer from the violence of the Israeli civilians residing in the region.”

What the government prefers to call nationalist crimes — and we call ideological crimes — has become a national scourge. As we emphasized here repeatedly, this is not an incident of random violence, but rather violence with a clear political goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land so it may be transferred to Israeli civilians. The police’s failure at resolving these crimes is systematic and well documented: out of 1,045 investigation cases reviewed by Yesh Din in 2005-2014, only 7.4 percent turned into indictments. 85.2 percent of the cases were closed due to the police’s investigative failure, usually because the police failed in finding suspects or gathering enough evidence to try them.

The village of Burin is a stark example of criminal actions carried out by Israeli civilians: in the years 2005-2013 Yesh Din documented 103 incidents of criminal activity, mostly violent, by Israeli civilians against Palestinians from the village. This blog documented a series of violent actions – both by Israeli forces and Israeli civilians – toward the villagers. If we were to take the official rhetoric about the need to fight ideological crime seriously, we would expect any incident in Burin would be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

Yet in practice, even when the police detains suspects and the prosecution has enough evidence to indict them, the case is somehow closed. This time the excuse was “lack of public interest.” Bear this in mind during the next press conference when solemn promises that the police will do its best will be made.

We have asked that the appeal be reconsidered. We’ll keep you posted.

A criminal justice system under military law

When law enforcement in the West Bank becomes ineffectual, the army cuts corners makes use of undemocratic administrative orders. tsavey_harchaka_comics3_eng

Our latest report, Mock Enforcement, takes a long, hard look at law enforcement vis-à-vis Israeli citizens who commit offenses against Palestinians in the occupied territories. Data collected for the report indicates that law enforcement in the West Bank is ineffectual, and that the absence of a functional system has led to solutions that circumvent the problem so as to maintain a facade of minimal public order in the West Bank. Instead of regular criminal proceedings, complete with professional investigations, indictments, prosecutions and convictions — a process designed to enforce the law and create deterrence — the police cut corners through the use of administrative orders.

There are two kinds of administrative orders currently in use:

Closure orders, commonly known as “closed military zone orders.” These orders enable the military commander to declare an area closed and seal it off, prohibiting or limiting entry. Both the army and the police are certain that closure orders “bring calm to friction zones” since all parties – Israelis and Palestinians – are removed from areas where a dispute is taking place. This, in their mind, prevents both sides from committing offenses. But because closure orders restrict access to farmland owned by Palestinians, they harm the legal landowners instead of protecting them from potential harm.

In addition to temporary orders issued for specific areas, vast areas are subject to permanent closure orders — mainly land adjacent to settlements — in a way that regularly prevents Palestinians from accessing their land. Use of such closure orders harms the ability of Palestinian farmers to tend to their land and live off of it. In the long term, given the land laws Israel enforces in the West Bank, lack of access and cultivation could lead to loss of rights to land.

Individual administrative orders issued against Israeli citizens bar an individual from entering the West Bank; restraining orders confine an individual to a specific locality or a home. Such orders are used frequently, compared with the number of indictments served against Israeli citizens who commit offenses against Palestinians. The military commander issues such orders against settlers marked by law enforcement agencies following ISA (Israel Security Agency) or police recommendations. The accused individuals are not informed of the allegations or given a fair chance to challenge them, and the evidence compiled against them remains classified. The military commander is authorized to use the most powerful means in a completely arbitrary fashion.

The absence of a functional, efficient law enforcement apparatus — capable of conducting proper investigations, collecting effective intelligence and stationing a large number of troops in known problem areas — leads to the use of administrative orders that by-pass the criminal justice system. Moreover, the use of administrative orders is simply undemocratic and violates human rights. Failing to improve the quality of investigations, which would lead to successful criminal proceedings against offenders and lead to reasonable enforcement and deterrence, the system prefers administrative measures. They do not require an investment of human resources, time, effort and money. All they require is the GOC Central Command’s signature.

A court of non-convictions for Israeli felons

Does everyone get his or her day in court? Not if they are Palestinian. megirot_eng_facebook

Every year Yesh Din publishes data about police investigative failures regarding offenses carried out by Israelis towards Palestinians in the West Bank. They are usually quite similar: the police fails to investigate approximately 85 percent of complaints of Palestinians who report being harmed by Israelis. The rate becomes much higher when it comes to the destruction of Palestinian trees by Israeli civilians: then the police failure rate grows to 97.4 percent.

The average Israeli may not be surprised that the police failure rates are so high, but he or she still has some expectations of the courts. After all, we are told time and again that Israel is governed by the rule of law.

Okay, says the average citizen to himself, yes, we seem to have a problem in when it comes to investigations, and naturally if the investigation is a mess we are not likely to get to court. But once we step into the halls of justice, everything should be fine.

Or not.

Our latest data sheet, which was released in tandem with an exhaustive report on the failure of law enforcement in the West Bank, examines for the first time what happens to the cases we follow once they leave the limbo of the prosecution and make it to court. The situation, to put it mildly, is not “okay.”

To begin with, the chance that a complaint by a Palestinian victim will bloom into a an indictment against an Israeli felon stands at a mere 7.4 percent. This means that the chances an Israeli felon will appear in court for a crime he is suspected of committing is about 1:14. Most often, cases are closed due to police investigative failures; in a majority of the cases, the specific reason is the inability of the police to find a suspect – what is known as the the unknown perpetrator clause.

The fact that a case makes it to court does not, of course, mean it will end in a conviction. The defendants have the right to representation and have access to attorneys — as a human rights organization we entirely support this. The problem lies elsewhere.

In 10.5 percent of the cases, the defendants are convicted of all charges; in 22.8 percent of the cases, only some of the defendants are convicted, or they are convicted of some of the charges – sometimes reduced charges as part of a plea bargain. The rate of acquittals is high relative to other cases in Israeli courts (8.8 percent). But what is truly high is the rate of “non-conviction” (24.6 percent) and the rate of indictment withdrawal (22.8 percent).

What is a non-conviction? It is a relatively rare practice, in which the court believes there is reason to avoid tarring him/her with a criminal conviction for one reason or another — despite the fact that the felon has been found guilt of the charges. This almost never happens in the Israeli courts: the percentage of defendants in the magistrates courts found guilty without conviction is 5.3 percent; in district courts the number stands at only 1.2% percent. This is true unless the victim is a Palestinian; then the rare of non-conviction jumps to 24.6 percent. That’s four times that of magistrates courts, and almost 20 times that of the district courts. What a coincidence.

In many of the cases in which indictments against Israelis charged with harming Palestinians were withdrawn, the reason was, once again, investigative failure. The prosecution re-examined the evidence, apparently after the response of the defendants’ attorneys, and reached the conclusion that it did not have enough evidence for a conviction. And that, we note, is a perfectly legitimate decision.

But in many of the indictment withdrawal cases, one of the reasons given was that the defendants did not even bother to show up for the hearings. In most of the cases the government took the required steps – a fine, issuing warrants for arrest and subpoenas – but the indictments were frozen until the defendant was found. In one of the cases, the prolonged freezing caused the police prosecution to say that the evidence has been degraded, to the point of cancelling the indictment.

At the end of the day, the chance that a Palestinian who lodged a complaint about being harmed by an Israeli civilian will see a conviction is only 1.9 percent. Again, most of the blame for this lies with the police – but the courts have their share, as seen by the unusual rate of non-conviction.

Rule of law? Rule of the violent.

The Unseen Criminals

Most cases of attacks on Palestinians are closed after under the “unknown perpetrator” clause. The police have wondrous ways of unseeing criminals.rashlanut-_comics2_eng

At the center of our new report, Mock Enforcement, dealing with the continued failure of Israel to enforce the law on Israeli civilians in the West Bank who harm Palestinians, stands a depressing piece of data: the police’s failure rate in investigating these crimes stands at 85.3 percent. The report examined 996 cases closed by the police, and found that the main clause for closing them is UP – “unknown perpetrator.” 593 of the cases examined were closed for that reason, which means the police did not manage to find suspects who committed the crime.

The clause is the official reason given by the police for the decision to close the case. The Israeli Police Command notes nine clauses for closing an investigative case, among them lack of guilt, lack of sufficient evidence, the fact that the suspect is a minor and, of course, unknown perpetrator.

The question that keeps surfacing when a case is closed due to UP asks just how extensive was the police’s search for the criminals. An examination of a series of cases shows that all too often that search was partial at best. At worse, it is farcical. Let’s deal with some examples, since there are some facts that simply cannot be conveyed by numbers.

On September 3rd 2009, three Israeli civilians – two of them wearing a hood, one with his face visible who was holding a stick and was walking a dog – attacked Ibrahim Tawil, a resident of the village of Faratha, on his land. The three attackers were joined by three others, all of them wearing hoods, and together they removed Ibarhim’s belt and assaulted him with it. They then undressed him, stole his wallet and watch and left him in his underwear.

In his police interrogation, Tawil identified the clear-faced attacker in the police album. However, an inner police memo claimed that according to intelligence, the person had no connection to the region or the incident. Had the police bothered to make the minimal effort and examined the suspect’s criminal record, it would have found that the attacker had a rich past of violence against Palestinians, including a conviction for using firearms. But this basic action was not undertaken, the suspect was not summoned for an interrogation and the case was closed under the UP clause.

Let’s recap: even when the Palestinian victim identified an attacker known to the police — who attacked him with his face exposed — the police managed to avoid interrogating the suspect. We appealed, and the suspect was summoned for interrogation (a year after the incident) and denied his alleged involvement. The interrogator did not ask him for an alibi, and the case was closed – again – under the UP clause.

Tawil, who lives near the Havat Gilad settlement outpost, isn’t very lucky. Two months after the first incident, on November 26th 2009, he was attacked by four hooded people who came from the direction of the outpost — two of them arriving on the scene with dogs. He was beaten with a stone on his head and a stick on his back. The timely arrival of other village residents probably prevented more serious damage. Tawil lodged a complaint with the police, describing the clothes they wore noting that he was also attacked two months earlier.

The police closed the file a month later, again claiming the unknown perpetrator clause. Even though at the time the number of people residing in Havat Gilad was 20 at most, the police declined to use the simple method of checking who among them owns dogs fitting the description given by Tawil.

Tawil, of course, is not the only victim whose attacker was never to be found. On March 17th 2011, a group of hooded Israeli civilians assaulted Sami Snoubar, a Palestinian working at construction in the settlement of Shiloh, striking his head with a metal bar and attacking him with pepper spray. The identification was partial in the extreme, relying on the testimony of a medic who identified two of them, but qualified his statement by saying he may have seen them at other incidents in the area.

The police interrogated three suspects; all of them refused to cooperate with the  investigation. Two of the suspects gave an alibi, which the Samaria Judea Police Department, displaying its usual diligence, failed to check. The case of the third suspect is more shocking: he refused to cooperate with the investigation, declining to give an alibi, and in response the investigator offered him an alibi (!) by saying that the police will allow him to call his boss so that the latter could provide him with an alibi. The case was closed under the unknown perpetrator clause.

One of the most appalling cases is that of Yassin Rifa’i. On March 14th, 2011 a Civil Administration officer informed Rifa’I, a resident of the Palestinian village Anata, that the residents of the settlement of Talmon uprooted dozens of trees from his land – allegedly as vengeance for a murder. The management of the settlement accepted responsibility for the incident and compensated Rifa’I for the damage.

The police interrogated the settlement’s security officer, who was asked whether he knew who committed the crime. The officer responded that he “preferred to keep the information to himself.” This, allegedly, is obstruction of justice, but the police did not pressure the security officer in any way, and he did not face any disciplinary action. Nor did the police try to find the Civil Administration officer who contacted Rifa’i. After all, it is much easier to scrawl “unknown perpetrator” on the case than try and find who the perpetrator really was.

The picture that arises from these cases (and many others), backed up by data, is as gloomy as it is simple: the investigators are not really trying to find the suspects. It’s unclear whether this stems from a fear that success will lead to hostility toward them from the Jewish population; whether this is the spirit of command, saying “don’t succeed too much in this realm”; whether this is laziness or a quiet sympathy with the attackers. What is clear is that there is something beyond incompetence, something near-systematic.

And when it becomes systematic, how can you blame the Palestinians who decided not to bother with lodging a complaint?

When the judge is your enemy, to whom shall you complain?

One of the most problematic phenomena in Israel’s law enforcement failure in the West Bank is the evaporation of a large number of criminal complaints, simply because there is no point in complainingi_imon-comics1_eng

The spectrum of possible reasons for the lack of complaints may range from acceptance of the fact and a natural inclination not to complain, to disinclination to come in contact with the authorities, to fear resulting from a threat or concern of retribution, to reaching the conclusions from the lack of results in earlier complaints to the police, or the refusal of the police to deal with complaints”.

These words were spot-on when they were written in the Karp Report, which was presented to the Attorney General in May 1982 and broke new ground on the issue of the lack of law enforcement in the West Bank, and are even truer today, after 30 more years of distrust of the Israeli law enforcement system.

We have recently published our new report Mock Enforcement, describing the state of law enforcement in the West Bank, based on the data we collected over the ten years of Yesh Din’s activity. Among the phenomena which ought to worry the decision-makers, the increasing refusal of Palestinians to complain to the Israel Police about offenses against them should have a prominent place.

Yesh Din began focusing on documenting this phenomenon in 2013, so as to get a better explanation of the circumstances in which victims refuse to complain to the police. We decided to do so after a long series of meetings with victims, who made it clear to us that they would not complain. The phrase the victims kept repeating was an Arab proverb: “When the judge is your enemy, to whom shall you complain?”

Between January 2013 and November 2014, Yesh Din documented 282 violations against Palestinians. In 66 cases, i.e. 23%, we were told by the victims expressly that they did not wish to lodge a complaint with the police.

There are several reasons for this. The first is that the victims are right: it’s a waste of their time. According to our latest data, the chances of the police getting someone indicted as a result of a complaint by a Palestinian – that the police will both find the suspect and gather sufficient evidence against him – is only 7.4%. But even if the police succeeded in doing its job, and a suspect was indicted, the chances of a conviction would be slim. Ultimately, the chance that a complaint by a Palestinian victim to the police will result in a conviction is only 1.8%, i.e. a chance of less than 1:50.

In order to even shake the dice and bet on this trifling chance, the complainant has to come to a police station and lodge a complaint. This is always time-consuming, and sometimes the complainant requires a police escort, as the police station is inside a settlement. Even if he made it to the station, in many cases he would find out that his testimony could be taken, as there was no Arabic-speaking policeman present. Then he would be required to repeat the whole process some other time.

Secondly, in a series of documented cases, the police investigators humiliated the complainants, mocked them, made it clear to them there was no point in the process (“Do you think a complaint will restore your rights?“),or even hinted that they were in fact responsible for the violations they complained about.

And if this weren’t enough, about a quarter of the victims who refused to lodge complaints pointed to a more serious problem: they had already been victimized before, lodged complaints, and felt that the complaints changed nothing. At least one person, Farrah Abad of Jaloud, told us that following the complaints he made, violence against him only intensified. “Now our little children live under mental duress”, he told Yesh Din. “I have no faith in the Israeli system. I reached this conclusion after many complaints which yielded no results”.

The feeling that there is no point in complaining is very prevalent, and the Israeli authorities do not do enough to combat it. It should be noted that according to our latest data, despite all the talk of an uncompromising fight against ideological crime, at the end of the day 25% of the ideological criminals – of the minority that is brought to court at all – are not convicted. The court finds them guilty without conviction. That is, refrains from putting them under the onus of a criminal conviction. This is a relatively rare procedure, intended to prevent a person who misstep from paying the full price. In the Israeli magistrate courts the rate of finding a person guilty without conviction is 5.3%; in the district courts, just 1.2%. That is, when it comes to ideological criminals, the justice system is not exactly Justitia, the goddess of justice, armed with the sword, as it would like us to imagine; it is more like an angel of mercy from 19th century art.

The Israeli justice system – from its inaccessible police stations through its lenient prosecutors, from its negligent investigators to its judges who won’t convict – makes it clear to the Palestinians that there is simply no point. That all the efforts and the risk they take on themselves leave them with a laughable chance at justice.

The result of the Palestinian lack of trust in the system is a whole wave of ideological criminality the system is unaware of. If it cared about its duty, one would assume that it would be concerned about the  23% of unreported attacks. However, more than 30 years after the Karp Report, it’s very hard to believe it actually cares.

“The investigation was smothered for years”

MPCID and the Military Prosecution refuse to do the bare minimum required in the investigation of the death of a protester: find out where the shooters stood11203006_10153247662962604_4404462379478352606_n

This blog has dealt more than once with cases in which MPCID negligence and intentional delaying seemed so exceptional, that you had to wonder whether they involved negligence or a calculated attempt to disrupt the investigation. The case before us, that of Palestinian protester Bassem Abu Rahmeh, moves in the same trajectory.

The Abu Rahmeh case, discussed here previously, is really quite simple. On April 17th, 2009, Abu Rahmeh protested near the separation wall in his village, Bil’in, in the West Bank. (We note that at the time, the wall followed a route that in 2007 the HCJ ruled to change, but the IDF was in no hurry and changed it only in 2011.) Abu Rahmeh was unarmed, and did not employ any violence, and yet, at the moment he protested the security forces shooting another demonstrator, an Israeli security forces personnel in uniform fired an extended-range tear gas grenade (a grenade used to disperse demonstrators from a distance) directly at him. The grenade hit Abu Rahmeh in the chest, and quickly led to his death.

Note and this is important: these facts are not being disputed. Even so, six years and counting after Abu Rahmeh’s death, the IDF – through MPCID and the Military Prosecution – is still doing its best to avoid trying the man who shot him. To quote the appeal we submitted to the HCJ with B’Tselem in April 2015, “From the chain of events, it is evident that this is (at best) a case of severe negligence on part of the respondents, and contempt of a most severe case of killing an unarmed protester, who was protesting peacefully. Military and civil law enforcement entities have allowed the case of a killing of an innocent man to fall through the cracks time and again, requiring the court to intervene repeatedly… Abu Rahmeh was killed by IDF soldiers who – at best – shot him negligently, and the investigation of the responsibility for his death was smothered for years by the investigative and prosecutorial bodies’ inexcusable red-tape behavior”.

Here is the chain of events, in chronological order:

17.4.2009 – An Israeli security forces personnel in uniform shoots Abu Rahmeh. The shooting is documented by three separate video cameras.

Due to the investigation policy at the time – which was changed only in 2011 – MPCID does not automatically investigate in case of death, unless explicitly ordered to by the Military Prosecution. The latter refuses to order an investigation of this case.

28.3.10 – Ten months after Abu Rahmeh’s death, the Military Prosecution provides an unusual argument for its refusal to order an MPCID investigation: the possibility that the grenade hit the fence and then ricocheted at Abu Rahmeh; the chance that the fact that Abu Rahmeh was standing on a rock when he was shot caused him “to converge” with the grenade’s course.

A reasonable person might think this is precisely what an investigation is supposed to find, since an unarmed demonstrator was shot during a non-violent demonstration, but apparently reasonable persons need not apply for work at the Military Prosecution.

3.6.10 – In response to the Military Prosecution’s peculiar  statement, human rights organizations Yesh Din and B’Tselem do their work for them, and send the prosecution an expert opinion based on forensic architecture. As noted, Abu Rahmeh’s death was documented by three separate cameras, and the experts used the three videos to build a simulation showing where the shooter stood. According to this expert opinion, we don’t know the shooter’s identity, but we know where he was standing.

11.7.10 – Based on the expert opinion – new evidence obtained 15 months after the shooting – the Prosecution orders an MPCID investigation.

28.6.11 – Nearly a year after an MPCID investigation it initiated and 26 months after the killing, the Chief of the IDF Ballistics Department informs MPCID that “the only way such ordnance reached the target is if it was fired directly”, rather than above or below the target. That is, MPCID’s expert contradicts the Military Prosecution’s position from March 2010. We learned this bit only after the investigation was closed.

3.2.13 – Chief of the IDF’s Photo Reconnaissance Department informs MPCID that IDF orders forbid shooting directly at persons with this ordnance, and recommends the MPCID reconstruct the scene to establish where each of the shooters stood at the time of the shooting. MPCID refrained from conducting this elementary investigation. The Chief’s opinion came almost four years after the killing of Abu Rahmeh and almost 20 months after the Chief of the IDF’s Ballistics Department rules that the tear gas canister was indisputably fired directly at Abu Rahmeh.

3.3.13 – Some three years after the beginning of the MPCID investigation, we petition (with B’Tselem) the HCJ, demanding the Military Prosecution conclude the unending investigation and serve indictments – at the very least for negligent manslaughter.

September 2013 – The Military Prosecution closes the investigation, claiming it is unable to determine who shot Abu Rahmeh.

29.10.13 – Given the Prosecution’s decision to close the case, the HCJ rules that our petition is no longer relevant, but rules that “we are of the opinion that if there is an appeal, it must be dealt with speedily, so as not to delay proceedings further”.

4.11.13 – We request the investigative materials for preparation of an appeal.

27.3.14 – Five months pass before we receive part of the materials – not all of it.

7.4.14 – We request the missing material. Ten days before the fifth anniversary of Abu Rahmeh’s death.

27.5.14 – The missing material arrives.

24.7.14 – We appeal, with B’Tselem, including an expert opinion responding to the IDF’s opinion.

Our demands in the appeal were fairly simple: there are three suspects who admitted to firing extended-range tear gas grenades, and we wanted MPCID to carry out a complimentary investigation and implement the Chief of the Photo Reconnaissance Department’s recommendation to reconstruct the scene of the shooting to determine where each suspect stood. According to the data we gave MPCID, this would be enough to determine the identity of the shooter who killed Bassem Abu Rahmeh.

Furthermore, during the investigation of one of the three soldiers, he said that he not only fired tear gas grenade but he also took photos of the incident, and since MPCID did not bother to locate those photos, we wanted them to make an effort to. Let’s consider this for a moment: the Military Police’s Criminal Investigative Division heard, during an investigation of a killing, about the existence of evidence – and made no effort to obtain it.

A third point made in the appeal is the commanders’ responsibility for Abu Rahmeh’s death. An extended-range gas grenade is to be used at range of 200 meters or more; the demonstrators were much closer. From the investigation files we received we learned that most of the soldiers suspected of firing tear gas grenades during the demonstration complained during the investigation that they did not receive proper training on using the weapons they used, and furthermore, that they complained about this to their commanders previously. MPCID did not bother to investigate the commanders about this matter. Given that the investigation meandered on for more than three years, it’s will to be difficult to claim it was for lack of time.

Although the HCJ ordered that in the event of an appeal against the decision to close the case “it must be dealt with speedily,” and although our appeal included rather simple and clear demands, eight months have passed without any response from the prosecution.

Therefore, at the end of March, 2015 – nearly six years after Bassem Abu Rahmeh was killed – we were forced to petition the HCJ again, this time demanding a decision on the appeal.

During these six years, the Military Prosecution did its best not to investigate a relatively simple case of a man killed; six years in which human rights organizations had to provide the Prosecution with the evidence it itself did not bother to collect. During these six years, against the recommendation of IDF officers, MPCID did not reconstruct the scene of the crime to determine who stood where. In these six years, the IDF’s official investigative bodies did their negligent best to prevent the trial of a man who killed a non-violent protestor.

But when MPCID and the Prosecution carry out an investigation so unwillingly and so negligently it can barely be called an investigation, they put the soldiers at risk. To avoid a situation in which soldiers are tried outside their country, the investigation of the crime they carried out must be thorough and swift. No reasonable person would call the farce carried out by MPCID and the prosecution in the Abu Rahmeh case thorough or swift. If this is how they handle an investigation of a death, how do they investigate lesser offenses?

In the photo: Abu Rahmah family, Bil’in, West Bank, 7.4.2010. Photo by Activestills.

When the police act like a gang

A journalist learns that if you photograph Border Policemen committing a felony, you’ll probably end up paying for it. YD_EN-2

Near the end of January 2015, Amin Hassan Raneh Alawiya left his home in East Jerusalem’s Al-Azariya neighborhood and made his way to a wedding. As he later described it in his police complaint, upon leaving the house, lawiya – a photojournalist by profession – noticed a demonstration taking place nearby. Naturally, he picked up his camera and went over to document it. A Border Policeman, whom Alawiya recognized, ordered him to move away. In fact, he gave Alawiya the choice of either moving away, getting arrested or getting shot. Alawiya went back home and photographed from there.

Two policemen then came to the house and called Alawiya to come out. When he did the two cops jumped him. They continued hitting him as he was led to their vehicle, and from what they said on the two-way radio, Alawiya understood that he was to blame for disregarding their instructions. Inside the vehicle, the policemen kept hitting him, one of them shouting “this is for our friend” and “our friend will shoot you,” using the name of a third policeman. One of them also used the opportunity to curse the founder of Islam, Muhammad, until the other one told him to stop.

Who is the third cop? Ah! This is the core of the story. In May 2014, as part of his job, Alawiya documented Border Policemen assaulting a hooded child in East Jerusalem, after he was suspected of throwing stones. The policemen also took photos of themselves with the wounded child. The “friend” is one of those documented in Alawiya’s video, which enjoyed widespread distribution on Al Jazeera and other networks. Ever since, he says, he became a target for the Border Police in East Jerusalem, which he claims prevent him from filming in the city and even broke one of his cameras.

Alawiya’s detention in January was part of the Border Police’s quest for vengeance. One of the problems with police forces, particularly forces that are not subject to serious oversight, is that they tend to become a kind of gang: the permeation of a culture of violence and lies becomes common. We have seen the violence, now let’s deal with the deceitfulness.

After his detention, Alawiya was held, handcuffed and blindfolded, in the Abu Dis Border Police base for some two hours. He was then transferred to the police station in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Edumim. There he requested to file a complaint of assault against the cops, but the officer present refused to receive the complaint, and told him he should turn to Israel’s Internal Affairs Division. As we will see, this was a hollow demand that reflected the police’s negligence. Alawiya was immediately informed that he was charged with assaulting and obstructing an officer. The police then demanded Alawiya sign a document saying he was not attacked by the police. He did so, but added in Arabic that it was he who was assaulted. Soon afterward, Alawiya was led to an interrogation room, where he was informed by the interrogator that he was suspected of obstructing an officer.

Did you get what, according to the complaint, just happened? Prior to signing a document saying he was not assaulted by the police, Alawiya was accused of assaulting an officer. After he signed the document, the charge of assaulting an officer simply evaporated. There is a method here, well-known to veterans of demonstrations in Israel and East Jerusalem: as soon as you complain about police brutality, you are automatically charged with assaulting an officer.

When a police force fabricates a complaint against a civilian, especially after he complains of being assaulted by a cop, there is, to put it mildly, a gross misunderstanding of the function of the police. Its duty is to maintain law and order, not to protect itself. When it distorts reality, it lies to itself, to the public that pays its salary and to the courts. When it pins false charges on a person, it is conspiring to damage his good name, his livelihood, and in the worst case scenario, deprives him of his liberty. It then ceases to be the servant of the public and becomes its enemy; it ceases being a vehicle for safeguarding human rights and becomes a tool for their denial.

Alawiya couldn’t file a complaint with Internal Affairs Division, since he lives in East Jerusalem, specifically in a neighborhood that lies east of the separation wall. Despite the fact that Israeli Police (which includes the Border Police) has been active in East Jerusalem since it was occupied in 1967, there is no Internal Affiars Division station there. In order to lodge a complaint, Alawiya either needs a permit to enter Israel, or use mediators such as human rights organizations. He says that ever since he documented the young boy being abused in May 2014, his permit has been denied.

And if you thought that was bad, the story doesn’t end there: a relative of Alawiya paid NIS 2,000 for his release on bail, since being assaulted by police and and then being wrongfully detained means you need to post bail. The relative, however, did not receive a receipt for the money. What happens to money given to a policeman when no receipt is given? Your guess is as good as mine.

In March 2014, Yesh Din Attorney Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, sent a complaint to the Internal Affairs Division, demanding an immediate investigation on suspicion of, inter alia, false arrest, assault, abuse of the power of office and conduct unbecoming.

Given that in 93 percent of the complaints submitted in 2011-2014, the Internal Affairs Division closed the case without any investigation (!); that of the 11,282 complaints in the years 2011-2013, only 2.7 percent turned into indictments; and that the former chief of the division is on record (Hebrew) saying that the police suffers from a “culture of lies” and that policemen cover for each other, one cannot hope too much that a journalist who exposed the face of the police will see justice. And these, we note, are the results for all complaints to the Internal Affairs Division, not just those by Palestinians. We’ll keep you posted.

This is what “lack of evidence” looks like

We see how seriously the prosecution takes its role when we realize it closed a file for lack of evidence — without so much as noticing the evidence.YD_EN-1

The location was Qusra, a village in the Shiloh Valley; the date, September 16, 2011. Fathallah Mahmoud Muhammad Abu Rhoda went out with his three sons to pick figs. A short while after reaching their land, they noticed about 10 Israeli civilians standing around their water hole. The Palestinians demanded the Israelis leave the place; the interlopers refused. The residents of Qusra — a village that has already proven it can defend itself against marauders — began heading to the area. An argument ensued, and according to Abu Rhoda’s testimony to the police, three of the settlers (who were armed) opened fire on the Palestinians. One bullet hit Abu Rhoda in the thigh.

Of the three, two were armed with rifles and the other with a handgun. From the police testimony, we see that the handgun’s owner also sicced a dog on the Palestinians. The complainants managed to photograph some of their attackers, among them the handgun owner.

Four days after the incident, Abu Rhoda filed a complaint with the police. Almost three years later, on August 6, 2014, the prosecution informed us that it closed the case for lack of evidence. After a series of 14 phone calls, we managed to photocopy the case file on December 15 2014 — more than four months after the case was closed. However, it was immediately apparent some of the material was missing. We continued requesting it until February 2015.

From the evidence we finally received, it turns out that there is more than enough evidence to indict the handgun owner, E. As previously mentioned, E. was identified by the Palestinians victims, and they even supplied the police with photos of him at the scene, which clearly show him holding a handgun in one hand and the dog in the other. The police picked up cartridges from the scene, and a ballistic fingerprinting – which took place on September 27, 2011 – found that one of the cartridges came from a 9mm Glock pistol (the others were fired from rifles.) E. was summoned for an investigation, invoked his right to remain silent, but admitted he owned a Glock. The gun was duly turned over to the police, which sent it to a ballistic fingerprinting. In February 2012 the police expert reached the conclusion that there is a match between the cartridges fired from E.’s handgun and the those that were examined on September 27.

In total, the following evidence was marshalled against E.:

A. He was identified and photographed by the complainants.

B. His handgun was identified as a the one fired during the incident.

Despite the evidence, the police recommended that the case against E. be closed due to — get this — lack of evidence. The recommendation was accepted by the prosecution. Embarrassingly, the prosecution admitted this to us only in January 2015 — 10 months after it closed the case for lack of evidence. Only as a result of our request for more case files did the prosecution learn about the September 2011 memorandum, which identified the type of handgun owned by E. That is, when the prosecution decided to close the case for lack of evidence, it was lacking a major piece of evidence.

What about the two other shooters? I’m glad you asked. The police chased one of the suspects into the Esh Kodesh outpost, even so much as detaining him after he fled. However, despite the fact that the suspect fled arrest and refused to identify himself, there is no indication in the material we received from the police that any investigative action was taken against him. There is, for instance, no sign that he was even interrogated or gave testimony; he was detained, and immediately released.

The third suspect managed to flee in a vehicle and reach Esh Kodesh. The police identified the owner the vehicle as well as another person who was with him in the car during the chase. But, lo and behold, the police neither bothered to interrogate them nor attempt to identify the third shooter.

This is how the police and the prosecution treat a violent incident, in which three Israeli civilians open fire on Palestinians who are on their own land. In a case that contains such clear forensic evidence, they managed, with extraordinary negligence, not to notice it. And in the other cases? They simply do not investigate.

In the beginning of March, our attorney Anu Deuel Lusky (briskly aided by Moriyah Shlomot) appealed the decision, asking the prosecution to bring E. to trial and conduct further investigations that would lead to the capture of the other two suspects. To quote the appeal:

“This appeal, in both its parts, raises a harsh and heavy feeling that both the police and the prosecution betrayed their duties as bodies entrusted with maintaining law and order. The current situation – in which the lives, bodies and property of Palestinians, considered protected persons by international law, can be harmed with impunity, both as a result of settler violence and as a result of law enforcement entities standing aside, not making the minimal effort to bring lawbreakers to justice – is intolerable, and undermines the rule of law.”

One wonders what is left of the rule of law after it has been so brazenly undermined.

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.