“And there they did not beat me”

Soldiers held a 13-years-old for hours and beat him, while his family is left unaware of his fate. 12482875_10153517055194118_1113545881_o

J., a 13-year-old Palestinian, lives in the village of Al Janiya. One cold morning in the beginning of last December, wearing pajamas and slippers, J. left his house and went to collect items from a nearby place for his relative’s engagement party. A large carob tree stood near the place. J. was accompanied by A., a six-year-old child.

As J. would later describe it afterward, upon reaching the tree, several soldiers jumped on the children and began hitting them. The altercation attracted the attention of an adult, who arrived and began yelling at the soldiers. The soldiers released A. but kept hold of J.

J.’s mother rushed to the scene and tried to dislodge the child from their grasp. In response, one of the soldiers pressed his rifle’s barrel to her chest. The mother, who suffers from an illness, lost consciousness. In the ensuing chaos, the soldiers threw stun and tear gas grenades, taking off in a car with J.

Meanwhile, at home, J.’s father heard the news from children who came to his doors in tears. He and his relatives would spend the next hours in desperate attempts to talk to the Palestinian District Coordination Offices (DCO) to try and find out where their son is.

J. was first taken to a military base, where – as he later described – the soldiers tied his eyes with gun cloth, and then tied his hands and beat him with their rifle butts. The soldiers demanded he admit to throwing stones. J. denied this allegation, pointing to the fact he was in pajamas and slippers. One of the soldiers threatened him that if he would not be released without confessing.

The tactic of taking children away and demanding they incriminate themselves, while isolating and denying them access to their parents is nothing new. In 2011, Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem published a report titled “No Minor Matter,” which documented this phenomenon. The report found that the children, isolated and often tortured (yes, the beating of the defenseless may amount in some cases to torture), are required time and again to agree to a Kafkaesque deal: confess and incriminate others, and they will be released immediately; refuse, and they remain in detention. Since the children have no adult or lawyer to consult with, and because 13-year-olds are rarely human rights scholars, many believe what they are told.

The result is often coerced incrimination, of themselves and others. And there is almost no exit route from a confession in what we usually call the justice system: B’Tselem’s report found that out of 835 cases of indictments of Palestinian juveniles, only one was acquitted. Note that while in Israel, the parents of a detained juvenile must be informed of the detention (their presence in an investigation is mandatory), and the interrogator must be a trained juvenile interrogator, there are no such rights for Palestinians in the West Bank. Any soldier may thus serve as an interrogator.

Yet despite it all, J. refused to confess to what the allegations, and continued pleading his innocence. In turn, his captors increased the pressure. He says he was put in a cold room with the air conditioner fully on. He does not know how long he was left there – a gun cloth over one’s eyes will cause the loss of sense of time – but he was freezing. That didn’t work either, so the soldiers later took him out of the room, handcuffed him in a particularly painful way, trussed him in a car and drove to a different military base where they delivered him to the police. “And there they did not beat me,” J. said.

The time was around 8:30 p.m., about 12 hours since J. was kidnapped by the IDF, at least as far as he and his family were concerned, since they had no idea where he was. He was then turned over to the Palestinian DCO and went home. J. was not summoned to a second interrogation, he simply left his home one cold morning in pajamas and slippers, met IDF soldiers, was captured, beaten, and released. There is no visible process in action here. Suspiciously, J. was released after precisely 12 hours – the maximum length of time soldiers may detain a juvenile without having to obtain authorization.

So here we have here an incident  of disappearing a juvenile without informing his family — who is now looking for him in a panic — which ends suddenly after 12 hours. What was the point? It’s unclear. No one said anything.

In the beginning of January, we lodged a complaint on behalf of J.’s father with the Operation Affairs Prosecutor. We can chart the complaint’s future route in advance. First, the prosecution will take a few months, perhaps even a year or more, to think it over. Was a crime committed? Is there truly a need for an investigation? After who knows how many months, when it will be clear to all that there is no chance of an actual investigation, the prosecution will either close the case without investigating it, or send it to the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID), which will also take its time. The passing time will allow the soldiers responsible for the act to be discharged and avoid military justice. It will also cloud the memory of everyone involved. You say we detained some kid in slippers two years ago? I really don’t remember, the soldier will say. And he truly won’t. But wait a minute – can the kid actually identify those who beat him? He had gun cloth over his eyes, did he not?

So the military prosecution will decide in three or four years that something may have happened. And it may have been improper — possibly even lamentable. Perhaps we should even condemn it, and at one point there may have been a time for some judicial action, but there is nothing we can do about it now. And anyway, we haven’t the foggiest idea who was involved.

We have seen all of these excuses. When it comes to inaction, the military investigative system is a champion. When it comes to indicting criminals who harm Palestinians – unless they harm the army’s own effectiveness – it is much less so.

The sum of all their failures

A story of assault in Hebron perfectly exemplifies how police investigations fail when the victim is Palestinian 12375071_1188917944470872_6386268292489763196_o

More than five years ago, on July 16, 2010, a young Hebronite by the name of Muhammad Abd Al-Raouf Abdrazeq was attacked by two Israeli civilians without any reason. In his police statement, which was backed by the testimony of a Border Police officer as well as by security cameras, Abdrazeq described how a group of Israeli civilians came from the direction of the Cave of the Patriarchs, when suddenly two men split off from the group. One of them grabbed him by his shoulders and prevented him from escaping, while the other one beat him severely.

An Israeli soldier standing idly by decided it was none of his business. A Border Policeman who noticed the attack came running, and according to his testimony called out to the soldier,  yet the latter refused to budge. The assaulters escaped, saying “Good Shabbos” to the soldier, and vanished without him trying to stop them.

The incident led to two parallel investigative paths: Abdrazeq lodged a complaint with local Hebron Police, and, aided by Yesh Din, with the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID). This post will track the two paths.

The police track is relatively simple. The police undertook a rather effective investigation: they took a statement from the victim, who immediately identified his attacker as Y.H. They then took a statement from the victim’s father who came running to the scene, from the apathetic soldier, and from the police officers who arrived on the scene. It examined the local security cameras and reached the conclusion that the incident happened as Abdrazrq and the policeman described it.

The police then interrogated Y.H. several times. The suspect obstinately denied any involvement, even when he was presented with the security camera footage. In his first statement, Y.H. claimed he wasn’t even in the area of the Cave of the Patriarchs at the time of the attack. Instead, he claimed that he was innocently walking down the street with a friend, accompanied by a group of boys he did not know personally. In his second statement, he managed to remember the full name of the man who was supposed to supply an alibi; however, when the police summoned the friend for testimony, he declined to confirm Y. H.’s alibi.

pic a

So, let’s summarize what we have here:

A. A victim who identifies one of his assailants.

B. A policeman who confirms the details of the incident, as described by the victim.

C. Security footage that shows the assault (albeit only capturing the back of the attackers).

D. An alibi witness who refuses to support the suspect’s version.

So what did the police do? Closed the case for lack of evidence, naturally.

This was a ludicrous decision even by the standards of the Samaria and Judea Police Division (SJPD), and thus in January 2011 we appealed the decision. Less than a month later, the case was reopened and a first draft of an indictment against Y.H. was prepared. He was charged with aggravated assault. This is how it looked then:

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A draft is one thing and a final indictment is quite another. On July 2nd 2013, the prosecution presented an amended indictment as part of a plea bargain with Y.H.

pic #2

Note the deletions. The charge of aggravated assault, as well as acting in concert with another – whose identity Y.H. refrained from providing to the police – were dropped. Instead, we were left with “ordinary assault.” What is this good for? Well, it allows Judge Hanna Miryam Lump of the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court to decide that Y.H. will not be convicted, and that given the circumstances of the crime (as dropped from the indictment), and the fact that three years had passed, sentencing him — without convicting — to 100 hours of community service would suffice.

As shown by our data sheet, the practice of punishing without conviction is relatively rare in Israeli courts: in the magistrate courts, such a decision is reached in only 5.3% of the cases, while in the district courts, it happens in 1.2% of the cases. When the victims are Palestinians, however, the rate jumps to 24.6%.

This case is in itself a rarity for one reason alone: it made it to court. In most cases, when the police close a case for some excuse, it stays closed.

[…]

But this case has another side: the military side. On the face of it, there are two issues here. For starters, Y.H. served as an IDF soldier at the time of the assault. Secondly, there is the issue of standing idly by: an IDF soldier was present during the assault, but decided not to get involved. He heard “a blow,” but decided that “an altercation between Jews and an Arab” is none of his business.

pic 3

Except it most certainly is. The military commander is the acting sovereign in the West Bank. The duty of IDF soldiers is to prevent harm from coming to protected persons. The soldier in question was both unaware of his duty and of the fact that he is charged with enforcing the law, which includes preventing quarrels between Jews and Palestinians. When the victim and his father demanded from the soldier from stopping the retreating settlers – as both of them testified (the testimony was supported by the policeman who arrived on the scene) – he did nothing.

None of this should surprise anyone who has read our “Standing Idly By” report. Looking away is the standard behavior of IDF soldiers whenever they notice Israeli civilians assaulting Palestinians. The IDF does not recognize standing idly by as a crime and, accordingly, does not punish soldiers who practice it. Again, what is surprising is the very fact that the soldier was even questioned by the police.

The MPCID case file focused on the question of whether Y.H. should be indicted for assaulting a Palestinian as an off-duty soldier. Following the investigation is important, as it shows us the worth of an MPCID investigation and the worth of the prosecution overseeing that investigation.

In the beginning of November 2010, after a coordination process of two months, we managed to get Abdrazeq to the MPCID base in Be’er Sheva to give a statement. Why Be’er Sheva? Because the MPCID does not have bases in the West Bank.

The investigation lasted five months, and at the end of March 2012, the MPCID informed us that it had transferred the case to the Operational Affairs Prosecution. The latter needed four months to inform us that it has not the foggiest clue of what we are talking about and that it is not in possession of such a file. In July 2012 – a year and four months after MPCID claimed to have sent the file – the prosecution informed us that it did not yet have the file.

Only in January 2013, some two years after “the end of the investigation,” we were told that the file reached the prosecution at last – only to be sent promptly for re-investigation. A year later, in January 2014, the prosecution informed us that the investigation was ongoing. In February 2015, after we sent them a sharply-worded letter, the prosecution said that the case was closed a month earlier due to lack of evidence.

Aside from the astounding fact that a file can go missing between the MPCID and the military prosecution for 16 whole months, when we asked for the case file so we could file an appeal, we found out the following:

  1. A significant part of the investigation allegedly carried out by MPCID was actually carried out by the Hebron police. Logical, yes – the Hebron police did most of the work. But then we must ask: what did MPCID do with all this time?
  2. Even though we referred to this incident, time and again, as one in which soldiers stood idly by, the MPCID refrained from opening an investigation against the soldier who saw the incident and did nothing. Had we the time, we would have appealed – but since more than four years have passed, this was not practical. Why? Because military law applies to soldiers for only six months (12 months in unusually severe cases) after they are discharged. When an investigation lasts four years, there is simply nothing to talk about.
  3. The case file contained a memo by an MPCID investigator from May 2, 2012, in which he notes that the case against Y.H. was closed on January 16, 2011, since he was investigated by the Hebron police for the same crime.

And this decision, admittedly, makes sense. Hebron police investigated the case, gathered the evidence, and Y.H. was prosecuted. There is no point in a second indictment, this time by the military prosecution.

What doesn’t make sense is the fact that after the MPCID effectively closes the case, it disappears for years. What doesn’t make sense is a four-year-old investigation, in which most of the investigation is actually carried out by an external unit that ended its work back in 2011. What doesn’t make sense is the fact that the MPCID and the prosecution have no clue as to what each of them is doing. What doesn’t make sense is that one can indict a soldier for six months after his discharge, yet the investigation is drawn out for nearly almost four-and-a-half years.

This isn’t news — it is how the system works. And we dealt with the essence of this system here.

There’s no “can’t,” only “won’t”

Why does the military police prefer to indict soldiers who loot rather than those who kill? 12366088_1185149894847677_1653458888243511272_o

In 2014, a total of 15 Israeli soldiers were indicted for harming Palestinians, as can be seen by our latest data sheet regarding law enforcement on IDF soldiers in the territories. Eight of those indictment were the result of investigations that began in 2014; seven as a result of older investigations. Of all investigations opened last year, only 3.5% ended indictments.

Israeli police, as is well known, aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. Our earlier data sheets reveal how they regularly fail to investigate crimes against Palestinians. And yet, the IDF managed to reach an indictment rate double that of MPCID: seven percent or more.

What more, when the Samaria and Judea Police Division closes a cases, it will do so — in most cases — under the “Unknown Perpetrator” clause. It will claim not to have the faintest idea as to who may be the suspect. Unfortunately for MPCID, its ability to use this clause is almost nonexistent. The IDF knows, or at least can know, where every one of its soldiers was at any given time. If the criminal is described as being a part of a force acting in village X on day Y, MPCID can find out all the details. It may still not obtain enough evidence against a specific soldier, but it generally crosses the main obstacle of an inability to identify suspects quite easily.

Yet it succeeds less than the Samaria and Judea PD. So what’s going on?

Looking at the cases that did make it to court provide us with a partial answer. In 2014, as noted in our datasheet, MPCID opened 229 investigations relating to soldiers who harmed Palestinians. 41 cases, around 18%, dealt with the killing of Palestinians by IDF soldiers; 154 cases, around 67%, dealt with violence against Palestinians; 20 cases (9%) were opened on suspicion of looting; and 14 investigations dealt with suspicion of conduct unbecoming.

Out of these 229 investigations, only eight of them ended in indictments. But when one looks at the indictments themselves, an interesting phenomenon becomes clear: even though most of the investigations were opened over cases of killing or wounding/assault, nine of the 15 indictments (some 66%) dealt with property-related crimes. In other words, theft.

Some of them were of low value. One soldier was indicted after looting a car in a roadblock, taking two car flashlights, a set of LED bulbs and a flickering flashlight. Another soldier was indicted for passing Palestinian cars through a roadblock for a bribe of some 200 NIS per vehicle.

Two caveats are in order. Firstly, due to the slow pace of the military investigation apparatus (of which you can read more fully here), it is quite possible that some of the 2014 investigations may turn into indictments in 2015 or 2016. Also, in MPCID’s defense we must note that property crime leaves solid evidence, which it may then seize as part of the investigation. And yet, the gap is astonishing. Why does the IDF systemically fail in investigating incidents of soldiers who physically harm Palestinians? And why does the IDF indict soldiers far more often for property-related crimes, while closing cases in which soldiers are suspected of wounding or killing Palestinians?

Here we must carefully move from measured data to conjecture, as we are not likely to get a straight answer, particularly not from the IDF.

It is quite clear there is no military order from on high that calls to neglect such incidents, nor is such an order needed. Every soldier knows full well the spirit of command. Why is MPCID so bad at investigating physical harm against Palestinians? To quote an old IDF saying, “there is no ‘can’t,’ there’s only ‘won’t.’” There are issues that are of the utmost importance to the army. Discipline, for instance. Looting is a severe breach of discipline. A military unit that begins to believe looting is permitted is quickly reduced to a gang, and its effectiveness plummets. Corruption harms, by definition, the effectiveness of military activity: a situation where, for instance, a soldier allows someone to pass through a checkpoint for the equivalent of six packs of cigarettes is unacceptable. The soldier, after all, does not know who he is letting through.

So these are the severe cases, those which draw full attention, which every investigator knows he has to treat seriously: offenses that harm military effectiveness. For instance, no less than 40% of MPCID’s investigations are drug-related, and 83% of these deal with personal drug use (Hebrew).

Other issues, such as physically harming a Palestinian or opening fire in questionable circumstances, are of lesser importance. However it may sadden us, an army is an organization whose goal is the use of institutionalized violence. A soldier who kills someone has essentially done what he was trained to do, even if he, unfortunately, broke the rules of engagement. A dead Palestinian, to sum, does not threaten military effectiveness. A soldier who takes bribes for opening a checkpoint or is busy looting does constitute a threat.

And since the number of investigators is limited, and as they have a limited amount of time, naturally – without any need for an order or directive – their energy is channeled to the places the organization sees as important. Thus we find ourselves with a pyramid turned upside down:  even though the number of cases of corruption and damage to property is relatively small, it is precisely these cases that lead to indictments.

This is yet another reason why we should consider taking the investigation of IDF soldiers who harm Palestinians out of the hands of the IDF. Because these cases require an investigation by people who consider harming an uninvolved person (or a disproportional harm of an involved person) to be a grave crime — a crime in itself, not merely a hassle on the way to the next looting or drug case. We need people whose goal is first seeing justice, and only then the needs of the military.

Has anyone seen my responsibility?

Each arm of the military investigation system is unaware of the acts of the other, and the system as a whole is intended for dodging accountability12313880_1180554305307236_1521482635935657552_n

Who is in charge of the military investigative system when soldiers harm Palestinians? This turns out to be a rather complex question that the IDF is at pains to answer. The running of the investigation itself is the responsibility of Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID), but it does not always decide whether to open an investigation. In cases of a suspected crime during operational activity, the decision over whether to open an investigation comes from the Operational Affairs Prosecution. Yet neither of these has any real control over the way investigations are handled.

As we do every year, we recently published a data sheet about law enforcement regarding IDF soldiers suspected of harming Palestinians. This year, one critical piece of data point is absent: the IDF did not know how many complaints were lodged against its soldiers in 2014.

How did this come about? Well, let’s begin with the fact that a Palestinian who wishes to lodge a complaint about being harmed by soldiers cannot simply walk into an MPCID base and do so – for the simply reason that there are no MPCID bases in the West Bank. To lodge a complaint, a Palestinian must choose one of several paths, all of them twisted.

He can try to reach an Israeli police station in the West Bank, but in order to do so he would need a. an escort, as in some cases the station is within a settlement; b. hope there will be an Arab-speaking investigator on duty on the day he arrives, because there isn’t one as a matter of course; c. hope his complaint won’t get lost, and we have seen many complaints go missing on this journey.

Alternately, he can send the complaint through a human rights organization, which will pass it on directly to the military prosecution.

Why the prosecution? Because, again, MPCID does not always decide on opening an investigation; a decision by the prosecution is often required. Experience shows that this kind of decision can take months or over a year after the complaint is lodged. So instead of the complaint being turned over to MPCID, and from there to the prosecution before being returned to MPCID for investigation, it is better to lodge it directly with the prosecution. The latter ­— if it decides to open an investigation — will direct the file to MPCID; in turn, MPCID will send the file back to the military prosecution, which will decide whether to indict or send the file back to the MPCID for additional investigation, and then wait for it to be received again.

Thus, instead of two steps — a complaint to MPCID leading directly to an investigation, whose results are turned over to the prosecution — we have at least four: 1. A complaint reaches the prosecution. 2. The prosecution decides whether to open an investigation. 3. The case is turned over to MPCID, which investigates it. 4. The prosecution decides whether the investigation merits an indictment.

Now let’s add another variable: when the prosecution receives a report about a Palestinian being harmed, it opens a case and numbers it. When the case is turned over to MPCID for investigation, it gets a new number. When it returns from MPCID to the prosecution, it takes on a third number (a second prosecution number). Should it be sent to MPCID for further investigation, the file will be renumbered yet again.

That’s not a filing system. That’s a system for losing files.

Confused? Now put yourself in the shoes of a Palestinian who merely wants the soldier who hurt him to be investigated and punished. Now we can understand why the IDF does not have a clear idea of how many complaints were lodged against soldiers for harming Palestinians. The army can tell us it opened 229 investigations in 2014, but the military prosecution has no idea how many complaints or complainants reached it, because it does not differentiate between various kinds of information; it can receive “reports” from military units or from itself, which may refer to more than one event. Nor does it know how long any specific investigation lasts.

And that’s not the only problem — we’re only just beginning. Officially, the prosecution is supposed to oversee MPCID’s investigations. In practice, time after time it turns out it doesn’t have a clue. You ask about a specific investigation, and the prosecution simply has no way of knowing its status. In practice, to quote our data sheet, “the division between the two bodies creates a situation in which the IDF does not currently have one body which runs and centralizes the treatment of complaints, follows the advancement of the investigation and checking processes, measures the length of investigations and has a systematic view intended for heightening the effectiveness of investigations and their fulfilling.”

And so we find ourselves with cases like the investigation of the death of Musab Badwan Ashak Dan’a, where after three years of investigation the MPCID investigators had less information than they had when the investigation began, after managing to lose a medical file. And of course, no one at the prosecution was standing over their shoulder with a stopwatch asking what’s going on, because as things stand the prosecution has no clue as to how an investigation is going.

The Turkel Commission, which published its report in February 2013, noticed that IDF investigation procedures are not tight enough and demanded tighter controls and fixed time tables for investigations and prosecution decisions on cases. It realized that the element of time is critical: if an effective investigation does not take place within a short while, evidence will disappear and human memory will fade on its own, even without malicious tampering.

The Ciechanover Commission, which was supposed to rule on how to implement the Turkel Commission’s recommendations, recommended a period of 14 weeks maximum for the decision whether to open an investigation, nine months for the investigation itself, and nine more months for deciding what to do with the case. So far, the IDF has not implemented those conclusions, despite the fact that nearly three years have passed since the Turkel Commission Report was published. Feels like a standard MPCID investigation.

The time element is crucial for one additional reason: the Military Justice Law says one cannot try a soldier after six months since his discharge, or a year since the discharge in severe cases. This means that just like the examination of the case, its investigation, the re-examination of the investigation and the repeated re-numbering of the file are dragged out across many months, only increase the chances that even if the investigation does succeed, the prosecution would find it problematic to indict the felon, meaning the case will be transferred to a civilian authority.

The result of all this is a system that is not geared toward promoting accountability among soldiers; rather, it is a system geared to tell them everything will be fine, just count on us.

 

Grab it hard

We appealed to the High Court to order the release of land seized by the IDF almost 40 years ago, which it makes no use of12250796_10153423524214118_2135121104_o

Two weeks ago, the council chiefs of the West Bank villages of Jaloud, Douma and Qusra appealed to Israel’s High Court of Justice, demanding that the hundreds of dunams of land seized by the IDF in 1978 be returned to their rightful owners. The IDF built a military camp (Jaloud camp) on a small part of the land, yet it has been abandoned for many years. It’s time to revoke Seize Order T/5/78.

Readers of this blog are already familiar with the practice of land seizure by military order: we dealt with it in the case of the Dura Al Qara seizure (of which the Dreinoff houses affair is a descendent of): a seizure that was on its face illegal, as an IDF officer specifically wrote in the seizure order that it is to be hidden from the Palestinian residents. We also dealt with this very seizure practice when we managed to return the land taken from the residents of Burkeh for the purposes of building the settlement Homesh.

Military seizure have served, time after time, not to fulfill a military need but for settlement building. The government stopped using this procedure after the Elon Moreh ruling (the film “The Law in These Parts” has some interesting things to say on the ruling), despite holding a significant part of the land seized prior to that ruling.

What is a military seizure? First, we must differentiate it from confiscation. International law prohibits an occupying power – the West Bank, even according to the government of Israel, is under belligerent occupation – from confiscating property or equipment of the residents of the occupied territory. On the other hand, it demands that the military commander protect the property of protected persons. The High Court has maintained, time and again, this double duty: to refrain from harming — and protect — private property.

And yet, international law permits – as an exception to the above rule – the military commander to seize private property when there is a pressing need to do so. If you are contending with a counter-attack or an invasion, you may seize land to use it for defense. But the rights of the owner do not expire: when the emergency is over, the property is to be returned to its owners.

Does the case of Jaloud comply with the law? Not quite. True, originally the seizure order was used for military purposes – the construction of a military camp that only made use of a small part of the land, and which has not been active in years. There is a small communication installation there, but it is unclear whether it is a military or a civil one, and anyway it sits on a small portion of the land seized. If the IDF has a need for the land it seized, it doesn’t show.

To quote the appeal, “In practice, a military seizure intended for unknown purposes, and which is anyway not in use in the last few years, which no one denies harms the property of the persons and the communities represented by the appellants, has in practice become confiscation. This is contrary to law and contrary to the rulings of this honorable court.” The military commander, we note, has held on to the land for 37 years.

The State of Israel is not the habit of releasing land it seized, even when it does not use it. We have seen this in the Burkeh case: the state seized the land on which Homesh was built in 1978. The official pretext was the creation of a settlement for Nahal soldiers – officially a military use. But, as expected, within a short while the military settlement turned into the civilian settlement of Homesh.

The act of theft via the offices of the military commander has been completed: private land, through the designation of “military need,” has been transferred into the hands of the settlers. Had the Gaza Disengagement not taken four West Bank settlements, including Homesh, with it, the thieves would have still been holding on to the plunder.

But the Disengagement happened, and once Homesh was dismantled there was no longer any logic in maintaining the seizure order. And yet, the state adamantly refused to cancel it and allow for a legal struggle against the cancellation until 2013. Why were so many resources directed toward this struggle? Perhaps one day we will know.

The suspicion regarding Seizure Order T/5/78 is that most of the land seized under it was never used for a military purpose. History shows that this scenario leads to – as in the case of the Dreinoff houses – the creation of a semi-wildcat settlement, which the government and the prosecution later attempt to legalize. There is no military need? Obey the law and return the land to its rightful owners.

We’ll keep you posted.

Providing terrorism with a tailwind

The police request to postpone the demolishing of an illegal structure due to fears of right-wing reprisal attacks is a clear surrender to threats of violence

The case of the Givat Ze’ev synagogue combines almost all of the ills of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Last week we witnessed a new low, when the High Court of Justice dealt with a request that has sadly become all-too-common: to rescind, through postponement, its own verdict. This was a cowardly and audacious request by the police, to which the court acceded. How did we get here?

Let’s begin with the legal picture. On July 31st, 2014 the High Court ruled that an illegally-built synagogue in Givat Ze’ev is to be demolished, as it was built on private Palestinian land belonging to Rabah Abdallatif. In plain words: Israeli civilians stole and built a synagogue on it.

The sharp-eyed among you may notice that the original demolition date, July 31st, 2015 is more than three months behind us. Due to a series of empty motions, the demolition was postponed time after time. First to August 10th and then to October 13th – after the prime minister himself asked to postpone the demolition until after the Jewish High Holidays. A day before the demolition date, a new empty motion was served to the court, which was quashed with prejudice.

The new demolition order was set for October 20th. Two days earlier, the government asked for a new postponement, claiming the security situation does not permit it to allocate the forces required for the demolition. You would be surprised to hear, then, that a day after that request was served, Israeli Police actually found the necessary forces to evacuate two Palestinian families from a house in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem, enforcing a court ruling in favor the far-right Ateret Kohanim organization. Turns out that finding the “adequate forces” is a matter of will. The government sought to postpone the demolition of the synagogue to December 1st; the High Court allotted it a shorter period of time – until November 5th.

Lo and behold: in what became a routine procedure for a government that dares not enforce the law when it comes to its political supporters, the police informed the High Court on the eve of November 2nd that due to the security situation, it once more wants to postpone the demolition.

This time, the police came up with an even more audacious and dangerous claim, according to which the security situation and terror attacks are “causing bitterness, frustration and restlessness with the current situation. These feelings are a platform among extreme right wing for ‘price tag’ actions.” Thus, the police asked for a postponement.

This is what the police is telling us: :Listen, there are some hooligans here. If we try to enforce the law, they will harm people and we can do nothing to do about it.” In the classic blackmail scenario, there is a goon and the person who kindly explains to you that you’d better do as the goon says. Threatening you? Not at all! He’d be insulted at the suggestion. He merely suggests you do the logical thing, security-wise. It would be such a shame if a fire broke out here, no?

And if the lawbreakers are the hooligan in this story, then the police plays the part of the person convincing you to give in to the threats. The police. You know, the people supposed to protect you from lawbreakers.

In case the justices of the High Court didn’t get the hint, on Wednesday morning (a day before the planned demolition) — in a step that was no less than a threat toward them — a protest slogan was spray painted on the walls of the court. The message is clear: we can get to you, just as we can get to the houses of Palestinians in the West Bank.

And if the High Court folds before the threats presented by the police, one thing is certain: these threats will repeat themselves. The government of Israel is happy to give in to the threats of these fearless, uncontrolled zealots. And if it could convince the court that there is no choice but to do so, the threats will continue. Because when all is said and done, these threats work.

The government came out of the courtroom with some success: the demolition was postponed – again – to November 17th, with the justices unable to hide their own impatience.

And one more thing: the people barricading in the synagogue call the structure a “minor temple.” Let them learn that a temple is not built on robbery, that it is not built on blood, and that virtue is not supported by sin. Let them learn that King David bought the thrashing floor of Aruanah the Jebusite by paying its full worth, not seizing it by force. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her repentant ones with righteousness.

A Chronicle of a Failure Foretold

gurvitz_2015_C_002_trees2Yesh Din data shows that police just cannot seem to prevent Israeli felons from ruining the Palestinian olive harvest.

We recently published our yearly datasheet following the lack in law enforcement in the West Bank when it comes to Israeli civilians harming Palestinians and damaging their property. The 2015 datasheet looks rather familiar to the 2014 one, which in turns looks all too similar to the 2013 one. All in all, a chronicle of a failure foretold.

Between 2005-2015, Yesh Din followed 1,104 ideologically-motivated crimes in the West Bank. The rate of failure in solving the cases stands at 84.9%; that rate climbs to 90.5% when it comes to felonies against Palestinians’ property, and goes down to about 80% when it comes to violence against Palestinians themselves.

The most popular clause for closing cases is UP (Unknown Perpetrator), meaning the police have no suspects in mind; 624 cases have been closed using this clause. We have shown here time and again that the police have a tendency to close cases under the UP clause even when the felon is known to them. The second clause is lack of sufficient evidence, which as led to the closure of 208 cases.

There are two prominent findings in the current datasheet. The first is a follow-up of 104 ideological crimes that took place inside Palestinian villages. Most of the cases we document take place outside the towns and villages, many of them on agricultural land belonging to Palestinians. But in the last two years, we have seen more and more felonies taking place inside the towns and villages themselves, and here a spike is noted.

Between early 2013 and August 2014, Yesh Din recorded 45 incidents of assault or property damage within Palestinian towns; between August 2014 and August 2015, 44 such incidents were recording – a rise of almost 98%. Attacks within the towns, of course, carry with them significant psychological implications: the Palestinians learn they are not safe anywhere — not even in their own homes.

The most familiar incident is the murder of three members of the Dawabshe family in Duma on July 31st. But aside from the unusually grave outcome, the Duma attack is certainly not the only case of its kind. In fact, that very night at Duma, the killers attacked two houses. Fortunately, one of them was empty.

Aside from that, before the Duma attack Yesh Din recorded 15 cases of arson against Palestinian houses (another case was documented after the Duma attack). The Israeli media generally refers to these “price tag” attacks as if they were mere acts of graffiti. In practice, however, price tag graffiti almost always follows an arson attack.

A significant number of the attacks on Palestinian towns take place in Area B, which are under Israeli military control. In practice, the IDF does not fulfill its obligation under either international law or the decisions of Israel’s High Court of Justice, and does not protect the Palestinian residents. When the Palestinians attempt to organize civil defense groups, the Shin Bet promptly disbands them.

Needless to say, the Palestinian police are prevented from dealing with Israeli lawbreakers. The result is that many Palestinian towns are offered no protection from Israeli felons and arsonists — despite being under Israeli control. Not something to be particularly proud of, I guess.

The second point, especially in these days as Palestinians take part in the annual olive harvest, is that the Israeli police particularly fails when it comes to cracking cases of attacks on Palestinian trees and harvests. The positive news is that whereas the 2013 failure rate was 97.4%, this year it’s “merely” 95.6%. I doubt this is of any consolation to the victims.

Israeli criminal activity expressed in damaging trees and harvests is ideological crime par excellence for two reasons. The first is the strategic goal of agricultural terrorism: remove Palestinians from their land. You can cultivate the land and mock the criminals, but you will bring home no harvest. Take our word for it. It will be burned down or stolen. Is it worth it, all this effort, just to see it all burn away or be uprooted? Forget about it, whispers the smoke, go away. Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house.

And the abandoned land becomes after a time, of course, land taken over by the felons.

And that, too, I guess is not something to be overly proud of.

How to get away with a crime

When the Israeli government announces it will legalize an outpost responsible for violence against Palestinians, it dog-whistles to the law breakers: All is well, nothing will happen to you. YD_Eng-1

During the second Sukkot holiday and the weekend preceding it, Yesh Din investigators documented 29 incidents of assault on Palestinians and their property by Israeli civilians (note that these are only the incidents known to us). The majority of the Israeli media did not report on the incidents, which included an attempt to set the home of a Palestinian family on fire using a firebomb, as well as an assault on an ambulance near the village of Burin. In a series of cases, IDF soldiers reportedly stood idly by and did not prevent attacks on the innocent or their property, despite their legal obligation to do so.

People unfamiliar with the events in the West Bank may think that ideological violence by Israeli civilians only appears as a response to terror attacks. In reality, such attacks take place on ordinary days as well. The response of those responsible for law enforcement in the West Bank – the Israeli government and the IDF – is the same: to ignore Israeli law breakers as much as possible. Israeli civilians know that when they go on the prowl, not only (despite the claims of the Minister of Defense) will IDF troops treat them less harshly when they throw stones or set fields ablaze. The security forces will also aid them by using crowd-dispersal weapons against Palestinian landowners, not the trespassers – who often walk into the very center of Palestinian villages. They also know that no one else will do anything to them. The chance that the complaint lodged by a Palestinian will lead to the conviction of an Israeli who commits an ideological crime is only 1.9%.

And they know something else too: that the government of Israel, forced to pretend to be shocked, absolutely shocked by their attacks, is not all that perturbed. Two days before the recent wave of violence erupted, the prosecution informed the High Court of Justice, in response to our petition, that not only does it have no intention of removing the outpost of Adei Ad, it actually intends to legalize it.

Adei Ad, which was highlighted in our “The Road to Dispossession” report, is wholly illegal. The prosecution does not deny it; it actually admits there are demolition orders against all structures in it; it is clear that over the years, 150 cases of illegal construction were opened against it, of which 97 are still open; it further admits that according to government, the Nationalistic Crime Section of the police opened 36 cases in 2014, with an emphasis on the Shiloh Valley area, where Adei Ad is located. None of this deters the government: it intends to begin legalizing the outpost.

A hearing on the fate of Adei Ad was held this week in the High Court, which gave the court 180 days to come up with a good answer for why it does not want to remove it. According to Yesh Din files, and as reported to the High Court, between 2005 and 2013, 96 criminal offenses were carried out by Israeli civilians in the vicinity of Adei Ad, many of them violent. In the whole of Shiloh Valley we found 146 cases, only six of which went to court; all the rest of the cases were closed, vast majority of them due to police negligence. And these are only the cases in which the Palestinian victim decided to lodge a complaint with the police; there are quite a few cases in which the victim decided not to — they didn’t see a point.

Adei Ad is a microcosm of the occupation: it represents the settlement policy of the Israeli government, which incentivizes felons to invade land and take it over. It then rushes to provide them with IDF protection and basic utilities. Then the outpost expands. At first, the Palestinians are prohibited from entering the outpost itself; then, they are barred from entering its security perimeter; following that they are forbidden to enter nearby land, unless the army allows it and in coordination with it. And after all that come the threats and attacks on farmers who did not yet get the hint and continued working their land near the outpost.

Almost all of none cases are ever solved. Agricultural settlements that lose access to their land also lose their ability to make a living. Palestinian villages whose land was stolen by the Israeli government and outlaws, like those of Adei Ad, suffer from high rates of emigration.

And then comes the reward. After 17 years of invading land, abusing Palestinians and ignoring the law, the government announces it will turn the impure into. Its agents may now collect their reward.

The Unmentioned Attacks

During the month of July, Israeli Jews set fire to and cut down olive trees in a West Bank village. This kind of violence is routine near Adei Ad. YD_Burn_EN

On the noon of July 13th, Aamer Abd Al-Rahman, a farmer from the West Bank village Turmusia, was urgently summoned to his land. A neighbor informed him that Israeli civilians, who he said came down from the nearby settlement outpost of Adei Ad were raiding his field. Al-Rahman drove quickly to the place, and managed to see Israeli civilians steal his wheat and load it onto donkeys. When he reached the scene, the Israeli civilians fled. He called the Israeli District Coordination Office (DCO), which arrived shortly thereafter along with representatives of the army and the police. The Israeli civilians were watching them from afar. Al-Rahman asked the police to advance toward the donkeys; as they reached them, about a dozen more settlers showed up and began swearing at them. A DCO man wrote a report, yet no one was arrested.

Al-Rahman finished loading up some of his stolen wheat, while the group headed down back to Turmusia. But when the cops left the scene, a group of Israeli civilians struck at another bale of wheat – stolen earlier and taken to a more remote area – and set it ablaze. At this point, a group of Samaria and Judea Police Deparment policemen reached the scene – Al-Rahman was under the impression these were people from the Nationalist Crime Deptartment – and the DCO man promised him solemnly that the attackers would be caught.

The Israeli media did not report on this case of theft and arson.

We move on to four days later. It is now July 17th, and Bahah Muhammad Sliman Faqaha – a resident of Sinjil who owns land in Turmusia – is woken up at 3 a.m. by a phone call. The day is the eve of the Eid al Fither, a major Muslim holiday, and the urgent phone call comes from Turmusia: your field has been set afire, he is told. When Faqaha reaches the scene, the residents have already doused the fire as best they could – although around 210 kilograms of wheat were destroyed in the fire. The residents who fought the fire tell him they saw figures making their way up to Adei Ad. Faqaha doesn’t bother to complain to the SJPD: he realized long ago that there is no point.

The Israeli media did not report on this case of arson.

On July 20th, Mahmoud Ahmed Muhammad Hazme reaches his olive grove in Turmusia, in a plot adjacent to Adei Ad, and finds that the 170 new olive saplings he planted were uprooted and broken. Judging by their dryness, Hazme estimates they were uprooted during the Eid Al Fither holiday. The Israeli DCO shows up, takes pictures, and expresses his shock; Hazme is not consoled. He tells the police that this is the sixth attack on his land in recent weeks by Israeli civilians, often from Adei Ad, and that he expects the police to do something with his complaints.

The Israeli media did not on report this attack.

We now jump 10 days forward. It is July 28th, and Aamer Abd Al Galil Yasef Juda, a resident of Turmusia, is urgently summoned by phone by the other residents: come quickly, your field is on fire. He reaches the scene and finds his harvested wheat, which he put in bales several days ago, ablaze. A witness tells him he saw Israeli civilians coming down from the Adei Ad mountain to his field, and then saw the smoke begin to rise. Juda complained to the police.

The Israeli media did not rep… well, you already got the gist.

What happens here is quite simple. Faqaha, who lost all will to complain to the police, described it succinctly. “Their method is to cause a mess so we won’t reach our land. They want it to themselves. Down the slope from Adei Ad to our land is a cave where the hilltop youth stay. I think these are the ones who harass us. The army pushes them away every time, but they keep coming back. The army and the police know them well but make no effort to detain them and put them on trial.” The cave, by the way, is known to Juda as well. It seems the only ones not to know of it are the people at the Nationalist Crime Department.

We described this method – violence intended to cause Palestinians to despair and leave their land – two years ago in a report focusing on Adei Ad titled “The Road to Dispossession.” Adei Ad, an illegal outpost that the Binyamin Local Council boasts about publicly (Hebrew), has been invading Palestinian land for over a decade. Last December, we appealed to the HCJ, demanding it be removed based on the fact that it continuously violates the human rights of Palestinian.

This method of dispossession through violence has not disappeared since that report. The number of incidents – four in the span of around two weeks near Adei Ad – may be exceptional, but the method itself is a fixture. This post deals with the July attacks, but there are many more attacks on Turmusia. One attack in January, for instance, destroyed 5,000 olive saplings.

These are quiet attacks, taking place on a near-daily basis — their goal is sow fear and despair. They are not fancy, they’re not followed by a colorful slogan, they “merely” intend to convince agricultural communities that there is no point in trying to keep their land. Even if you manage to raise crops in the impossible conditions near an outpost, even if the army allows you access to your land, someone will steal the fruit of your labor. And if he can’t steal it, he’ll torch it. Neither you nor me shall have it.

The Israeli media woke up in terror a month ago after the Duma terror attack, and (finally) realized that we are dealing with Jewish terrorists. Wake up and smell the coffee. They have been here for many years now. The Israeli media simply felt it is better to ignore them, or worse, to label their attacks “graffiti.”

So, once more: this isn’t about graffiti. This is an intentional campaign to terrorize farmers through the use of violence, whose goal is dispossession. These gangs may be less organized than the one that torched the house in Duma. But the negligence of the authorities is the same.

And this must end.

We don’t like investigating. Whatcha gonna do about it?

After Israeli civilians cut down trees; a Palestinian identifies them. But the police close the case, claiming they have no idea who the perpetrator is. YD_Eng-2

I am considering demanding the Treasury repay me for the portion of my taxes they spent on the Samaria and Judea Police Deparment, since it is clearly a superfluous expense. This blog is not, to say the least, an admirer of the SJPD, but this time special forces would be required to help it find its missing jaw.

The case goes as follows. Our client, Abd Al Latif Dar Samkhan, who resides in the village of Ras Karkar, heard on April 19, 2014 from his neighbors that settlers are on his land, damaging his olive trees. He hurried to the scene along with members of his family, where he found a group of Israeli civilians (accompanied by two dogs) who were busily cutting down his trees. The Israelis retreated to a nearby pond, where they mocked the angry landowner and told him they were not scared of the SJPD, using the opportunity to curse the name of the Propher Muhammad. The Israelis climbed into a white car and – according to the witnesses – vanished in the direction of the settlement Neriya. They left behind some 60 cut-down olive trees.

IDF and SJPD forces reached the scene, where the police immediately took early statements – with which it did nothing. Alongside our client was a witness, Azmi Samkhan. A month after the incident, on May 19, 2014 19.5.14, Azmi was summoned for a second testimony; he was asked to provide evidence that the land was indeed his. The police summoned him again the next day, and this time asked him to partake in a photo identification.

Azmi’s response was unequivocal: he positively identified three suspects. “This is the man who threw stones at me,” he says, “that is the one who was cutting down the trees,” and “this one climbed on top of a sapling in order to break it down.” The names of the suspects are known to us, but we are forbidden from publish them; the SJPD has the names. Azmi also described, once more, the dogs who followed the attackers: a black dog and one colored brown and white.

One might have expected — were we not dealing with the SJPD — that after the three suspects were identified to the investigators, althoughthough it was a month after the incident, they would summon them for an interrogation. One might have also expected the investigators to make an effort to find out the owner of the dogs.

Keyword: might.

The photos held for Samkhan on May 20, 2014 was the last investigative action that can be found in the file. On April 28, 2015, nearly a year after the incident took place, and 11 months after Azmi identified three attackers, the police closed the case. The clause justifying the act was UP — “unknown perpetrator.” That’s when my jaw dropped.

Let me explain. UP is one of nine clauses under which the police may close a case. It means that the police acknowledge that a crime took place, but that it has no clue as to the identity of the suspects. This is the most common clause used by the SJPD to close cases.

But how can you say, for crying out loud, that you have no suspects when a witness fingered three of them? How, for crying out loud, can you not summon them for an interrogation? Where, for crying out loud, do you find the chutzpah to then close the case under the unknown perpetrator clause? You were told who they were! You know the names! They are written down in your reports!

After we dealt with an investigator who decided not to check whether there are security cameras at the scene of a child’s attempted kidnapping — since he didn’t think they would cover the scene — we now have investigators who, even when told the names of suspects, are incapable of interrogating them.

And, of course, this screw-up is attended by the usual failure to inform the victims of the crime. The police closed the case on April 28, 2015 but only bothered to inform us – the attorneys of the victim – on June 25. Only on July 12 did we manage to get a copy of the half-empty case file. Our attorneys, Noa Amrami and Michal Pasovsky, sent an appeal in early August demanding the reopening of the case and the interrogation of the suspects, noting that “the fact the suspects were not summoned [for interrogation] is to be construed as negligence and raises serious questions about the way the police handles criminality against Palestinians residing in the Territories.”

However, the chance that the criminals will be indicted after more than a year of a police failure is so small, that if it does happen we will probably be invited to a gala performance of the Flying Pigs Wing. So, again, I want the money I spent on the SJPD back, please.