Yossi Gurvitz, Yesh Din
5 September 2016
Since Israeli police care so much about Palestinian victims, they bother taking their testimonies only after journalists ask tough questions
Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights is an Israeli organization registered as a non-profit in Israel. Yesh Din is subject to Israeli law and is served by a volunteer corps and by a professional staff. Since it was established in 2005, Yesh Din’s volunteers and staff have worked for structural, long-term improvement to human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Yesh Din views the occupation as a main source of the violation of the human rights of the Palestinian population and therefore seeks to end it. Our name – there is justice – reflects the belief that equitable application of local and international law is an important component in upholding human rights.
In February 2014, two Palestinians from the village of Hawara – Ahmed Bassem Ahmed Uda and Fouad Daoud Salim Skhadeh – went to work their field. Suddenly they found themselves attacked by Israeli civilians who ambushed and threw stones at them. After the stones were thrown, the Israelis charged the two Palestinians and beat them with iron rods. In the background a few Israeli soldiers slowly headed down toward the incident from the direction of the West Bank settlement, Yitzhar. The Israeli civilians dispersed in the direction of the settlement after one of the soldiers told them “that’s enough.” We documented the incident itself here. Needless to say, the Israeli soldiers did not carry out their legal obligation to protect the Palestinians, nor did they detain the attackers.
As noted, two people were wounded in the attack: Uda and Shkhada. The latter, whose wounds were more severe, was evacuated to Icholov Hospital in Tel Aviv. This post will deal with the way Israeli police handled a serious case of assault, which was carried out for nationalist reasons.
Uda complains to an Israeli policeman at the Hawara District Coordination Offices (DCO) at the beginning of March 2014 (three days after the attack). He described what happened and added that another victim, Shkhada, was also present. Nine days later – after all, what’s the rush? – a police investigator tries to call Uda. He fails to make contact, and thus leaves the case be. Because, after all, this is just a severe assault of two people on their own land – nothing to be concerned about.
On April 7th, our attorney Noa Amrami asks the police how the case is going. From the police records, it appears to be the first time they realize there is another victim beside Uda, but that doesn’t seem to disturb anyone over there. Three days later, an investigator tries to call Shkhada, fails, and drops the issue.
Uda notes in his testimony that he saw Yitzhar’s civilian security coordinator (CSC) along with the settlers during the assault. This testimony is to be considered carefully, since Palestinians do not always discern correctly between the various sorts of Israeli security personnel, and sometimes when they say “CSC” they actually mean a member of the settlement’s rapid deployment squad. At any rate, on April 10th a policeman tries to find out whether Yitzhar’s CSC was in fact on the scene.
Had this investigation taken place on the other side of the Green Line, we could assume that a civilian who allegedly took part in such a severe case of assault would have been summoned for an interrogation, perhaps even under warning. But this case takes place in the West Bank, so the policeman is content with a simple phone call to the Yitzhar CSC. The latter responds that he was present because he was on reserve military duty. Such a claim is called an alibi, and an alibi requires proof; but the policeman did not ask the CSC to prove his claim, and made no effort to check it himself. Instead he simply accepted the CSC’s statement as is.
Two days later, the police document another phone call from Attorney Amrami, who once again reminds them that there was a second victim, whose testimony the police did not bother to take. We are now 43 days after the attack took place.
And one assumes this is how this would have continued: the lawyer representing the victims makes a call, the police make a record of it and then send it to a metaphorical paper shredder. But on April 16th, four days after Amrami’s second phone call, the police suffers a public relation disaster.
It went like this: the police spokesman calls the investigators and tells them he has a journalist on the line, Haaretz’s Gideon Levy. The spokesperson says Levy wants to know why, in fact, the police did not bother to take the testimony of a victim of a serious assault 47 days after he was attacked. The shocked investigator, who documents the conversation the following day, tells the spokesman that he knew about this victim for only a week. But on April 17th, a day after Levy’s phone call, a police investigator appears in the hospital to take Shkhada’s testimony.
Shkhada’s assault is one of the most severe documented by Yesh Din. He described it this way: “I raised my hands to protect my head. While I was with my arms raised and protecting my head, they beat my arm and caused two fractures there. I received a very strong blow to the head and a blow to the jaw. I have at least eight fractures in the right leg – including the knee, including all the leg. It was God’s mercy that six people beat me at the same time, because many times their iron clubs struck one another. This was perhaps the only protection I had, because they kept getting in each other’s way. If there was only one or two attackers they surely would have killed me.”
Do the police do anything with this testimony? Let’s not get carried away. They can now tell Gideon Levy they took the victim’s testimony, but nothing more than that. On May 16th they close the case under the “unknown perpetrator” clause. While examining the case file in order to prepare an appeal, we found it contained the following documents:
A. Uda’s testimony.
B. Documentation of the contact between Yesh Din and the investigators.
C. Documentation of the phone call between an investigator and the Yitzhar CSC.
D. Documentation of a short phone call to the Shomron Regional Brigade, trying to find out the identities of the soldiers present.
E. Documentation of the phone call between the police spokesman and the investigator regarding Gideon Levy.
F. Shkhada’s testimony.
And that’s it.
The police did not bother to summon the CSC for interrogation under warning; they did not bother to ask him whether — assuming he wasn’t present — whether any of his men were; nor did they ask him who replaced him in his absence. The police did not bother to find out which soldiers were present; they would certainly remember the assault clearly. If only someone would have bothered to make the minimal effort of finding them and taking down their testimony while they memory was fresh.
In short, the police did nothing.
In July 2014 our attorney, Roni Pelli, appealed the police’s decision to close the case. The appeal was accepted. The police were forced to investigate, for lack for better options, but closed the case again in October 2015 under the unknown perpetrator clause.
You will be happy to know that in the 15 months since we sent our appeal, the police took two – count ‘em, two – investigative actions:
A. They interrogated the Yitzhar CSC.
B. The CSC showed the police a document confirming he was on reserve service at the time.
When the investigators asked the CSC who replaced him, he said he did not remember because too much time had passed. Assuming the Yitzhar CSC is not in command of thousands and does not have dozens of captains reporting to him, this claim is somewhat problematic. On the other hand, the police did interrogate him 16 months after the incident, so you can hardly blame him.
What about the soldier who witnessed the incident? We filed another appeal. In April 2016 we were informed that the case was shelved – i.e., closed unless new evidence is found, although no actions are to be taken to find any such evidence. Even were a miracle to happen and the case was to be reopened, the chances of finding the soldier — who surely was discharged a long time ago — are lower than the Dead Sea.
So, the next time the Samaria and Judea Police Division tells you it treats nationalistic crimes with the utmost seriousness, remember this case and the various investigative actions it carried out. This is how Israeli law enforcement looks on the ground.