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A court of non-convictions when the victim is Palestinian

When Israelis are accused of victimizing Palestinians, nearly 25% of convictions are simply thrown out — to avoid tarring the criminal with a criminal record.

By Yossi Gurvitz, written for Yesh Din

A masked Jewish settler uses a slingshot to throw stones at Palestinians [illustrative photo] (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

A masked Jewish settler uses a slingshot to throw stones at Palestinians [illustrative photo] (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

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

The average Israeli may not be surprised to find 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, the average citizen says to himself, we seem to have a problem 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.

Yesh Din’s 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 the organization follows 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 chances that a complaint by a Palestinian victim will develop into an indictment against an Israeli felony suspect stands at a mere 7.4 percent. This means that the chances that an Israeli will appear in court for a crime he is suspected of committing is around 1 in 14. Most often, cases are closed due to police investigative failures; in a majority of the cases, the reason cited 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 – often times reduced as part of a plea bargain. The rate of acquittal 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 withdrawn indictment (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 the suspect 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 magistrate’s 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 non-conviction jumps to 24.6 percent. That’s four times that of magistrate’ 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 given was, once again, investigative failure. The prosecution re-examined the evidence, apparently due to a response by 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 cases of withdrawn indictments, one of the reasons cited 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 claim that the evidence has been degraded, leading the court to revoke the indictment.

At the end of the day, the chance that a Palestinian who lodges 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 are also responsible, as seen by the unusual rate of non-conviction.

Rule of law? Rule of the violent.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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    1. Jackdaw

      Good job, Yossi.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Information: Military Court Watch is an Israeli human rights group:


      Here you can find reports, statistics, and testimony from both Palestinian children and adolescents and Israeli soldiers.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Let us put this into context. According to figures of attacks collected by United Hatzallah in Judea and Samaria in the first six months of 2013 compared to the figures of the UN OCHA for all of 2103, Palestinian attacks on Jewish people in Judea and Samaria greatly out numbered attacks or property damage by members of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria against Arabs.

      Here are the figures from Hatzallah. 5635 incidents in six months: that equates to 11,270 attacks in a year.


      OCHA figures in its reports said there were 399 attacks and acts of vandalism by members of Jewish communities against Palestinians.

      That works out to 28 Arab attacks for every Jewish attack or act of vandalism.

      These figures show that the police forces have about 32 attacks a day, both Arab and Jewish, along with normal crime, road incidents and other emergencies to deal with such as Arab rioting. In addition they have to deal with terrorist planning of major attacks.

      The PA does not investigate the acts of Palestinians. Israel catches a few of these attackers. This reflects the work load and difficulty of finding perps who throw stones or Molotov cocktails while disguising their faces or at night while trying to maintain order in Judea and Samaria with terrorists trying to carry out their plans to murder Israelis.

      Israel has taken action against price tag attackers, having created an under cover unit. It took over the Yitzhar yeshiva for a full year. In the case of the murder of a Palestinian youth last summer, Israel arrested the three persons responsible for the killing and put them on trial.

      For Yesh Din nothing Israel does is good enough. Yesh Din expects Israel to conduct extensive CSI investigations for all crimes no matter how minor and no matter whether there is any chance of a conviction. Yesh Din ignores that the Israeli police have many things to do than carrying out investigations to Yesh Din’s satisfaction.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Pedro X, what’s remarkable to me is how you can’t see that the very dismissiveness and callousness you display here–towards a well marshaled case that, as Yossi says, the rule of the violent is what is going on–just supports Yossi’s case about the system. It’s like your post ought to be appended as evidence is support of, not contra Yossi Gurvitz and Yesh Din.

        Moreover, yes, let us put this into its proper context by linking to Yossi’s previous piece on this subject:


        “…a whole wave of ideological criminality, which the system is unaware of.”

        The umpteenth time someone trots out some statistics about relative numbers of attacks, Yossi Gurvitz’s explanation in this context of what epidemiologists call under-reporting bias should be consulted. And this does not take into account contralateral over-reporting and observation biases by settlers.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Well Benny dear, let me ask you…

          How many child murderers did your Palestinian Arabs convict? ANSWER: None!!!

          …certainly not when the murdered child is an Israeli child.

          …and it gets worse than that. Not only does your “peace loving” Abbas not convict Palestinian Arabs who murder Israeli children. He actually makes heroes out of them. He names streets after them and he gives them stipends after they are released from Israeli jails (yes, we dare to jail them). And yes, Abbas demands their release from our jails in exchange for him pretending to negotiate with us about peace…

          Wanna talk about that side of the equation, Benny, dear?

          Reply to Comment