An Israeli police interrogator exposes the true farce that is the ‘rule of law’ in the West Bank, when it comes to Palestinians at least. The abuse of a boy as a microcosm of the occupation.
By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz
This past June, we reported on an unusually severe incident next to the settlement of Eli: a security officer drew his gun at M., a 14-year-old Palestinian boy who came near the settlement, fired in the air, and when the boy fell down and was wounded, he abused him – everything, naturally, with the support of our armed forces.
M.’s family decided to press charges against the security officer in question, and went to the Israeli police station in Binyamin. Shortly thereafter, as we describe in a complaint to the public complaints officer of the Judea and Samaria District Police (JSDP), M. and his mother sat down in front of interrogator “A.” A. was clearly unhappy with receiving the complaint, and vented his spleen at the boy.
When M. stated that the security officer fired in the air and that he feared for his life, A. – according to the report given by M.’s mother to our attorneys – shouted at him: “Don’t say he wanted to kill you, he just wanted you to stop.” What a strange remark. How does A., who was not present at the incident, know what happened there? How, in particular, does he know what the security officer thought?
And that was just the beginning. When M. stated that the officer physically attacked him with a pistol, striking at his head, M.’s mother said that A. quickly retorted that this was because the boy came close to the settlement. Last I checked, physically abusing a person is a criminal felony even if he is a Palestinian and even if he does come close to a settlement. The efficient interrogator A. was not interested in those fine points, however.
When M. described how the officer twisted his wounded leg, Interrogator A. shouted at him that “he was trying to examine the leg, not damage it.” Again, how does he know? Is he a mind reader? A. asked M. why he approached the settlement, and when he replied that he was going to lands owned by his family, A. came up with this clever retort: “I don’t know your father and your grandfather, and the security officer is empowered to shoot you 150 meters away from the settlements.” Accordingly, seeing how M. is still alive, A. would later tell him, “why do you want to press charges anyway? Those people were good to you.”
At this point, M.’s mother intervened and asked A. why he was using such a hostile tone. To which Interrogator A. replied, according to the complaint, that that if she didn’t like it, “they” could come at any moment and arrest M. for interrogation. Who “they” were, policemen or Shin Bet officers, is unclear; the threat, however, froze M., and he refused to speak anymore.
Yet the core of the incident happened earlier: when M. said he wants to press charges against the security officer, A. shouted at him: “Do you think filing a complaint will restore your rights?”
In a normal country, the answer to A.’s question is simple. Yes. The function of a complaint with the police is to restore to the complainant rights denied him. In M.’s case, that would be the right to see justice done to the goons who abused him. The purpose of the modern system of justice, after all, is denying the concept that justice is a private issue, something for the victim and the abuser to work out between themselves; we all give up some of our rights so that the government, which is supposed to be neutral, will judge between us and those who wrong us. This is the modern justice system’s main claim to fame: transcending above the millennia-old system of blood feuds.
But for such a system to maintain public faith, neutrality must be paramount. It’s not by accident that Justitia, the goddess of justice, has her eyes covered; not, as the cynics say, to show that it is blind and fumbling in the dark, but to make a statement that she is impartial, that the meek have the same weight as the mighty. The first station of modern justice is the police interrogator. When he is, a priori, so hostile, when he accepts the version of the abuser by default, when he threatens the victim that if he stands for his rights he will be arrested, he tells him he has nothing to expect of the Israeli justice system, even in the grotesque form it takes across the Green Line. He turns the complainant – a minor, I’ll remind you – into an interrogation subject.
By saying those words, “do you think that filing a complaint will restore your rights,” Interrogator A. exposes the bright shining lie about the claim that there is “rule of law” in the West Bank. The laws are not laws, rather military decrees; the police are not a policing force protecting the residents, but just another supporting outfit of the occupying force (and it is empowered to act in the West Bank only because a military decree invited it to do so). And as for the justice system – well, the least said the better. Justitia might lose her lunch.
Attorney Noa Amrami sent an angry letter on our behalf to the public complaints officer of the JSDP, Major Yaron Sheetrit, demanding a proper investigation of the incident and writing, “we believe it is time to draw a red line against incidents which show the impartiality of JSDP policemen, and various attempts to intimidate Palestinians away from pressing charges. We will not hesitate to turn to the courts if, again, you decide to do nothing in the face of conduct unbecoming of a JSDP police officer. I therefore ask you to view this letter as a formal complaint against Interrogator A., and to make certain the proper disciplinary command and action be taken against him.”
We’ll keep you posted.
Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights.