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Attacked by a soldier? Don't expect to hear from the police

A Palestinian resident of Hebron is attacked for trying to protect a child from settler violence. It turns out his attackers were aided by an IDF soldier.

By Yossi Gurvitz, for Yesh Din

Israeli police. [illustrative photo] (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli police. [illustrative photo] (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Sometimes you run into stories that encapsulate the entirety of the injustice of the occupation. All too often those stories come from the Hebron region, where reality is even harsher than the rest of the West Bank.

Ra’ed Jihad Yakoub Abu Armila owns a souvenir shop in Hebron and works as a photographer for Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem. Around the beginning of May 2016, he stood with two friends near the Al-Ibrahimiya school in the city when he noticed a group of Israelis accompanied by a dog. Abu Armilla feared they were using the dog to intimidate a Palestinian girl who passed by them. As she walked by, the child became very scared and began crying. Abu Armilla did what any photographer would: he pulled out his video camera and began documenting the incident.

The Israeli civilians greatly disliked the idea of becoming instant YouTube stars (it’s doubtful whether there is any other way to ensure steps be taken against them) so they advanced on Abu Armilla and his friends, while siccing their dog on him. Abu Armilla’s two friends retreated — he was left alone.

And then the soldier intervened. Yes, a soldier accompanied the Israeli civilians.

What did the soldier — the representative of the rule of law — do when he saw a group of Israeli civilians intimidating a child and threatening a photographer? He cocked his gun and pointed it at Abu Armilla.

Abu Armilla froze, feeling scared for his life. The soldier pointed the rifle at him and the Israeli civilians used the opportunity to hit Abu Armilla on the head with blunt objects, including from behind. They beat him until he collapsed and lost consciousness.

When he came to, Abu Armilla managed to see the soldier and the Israeli civilians walk away. Shortly after Border Policemen arrived on the scene, helped him walk to a nearby store, provided him with initial medical treatment, and called an ambulance.

Abu Armilla was hospitalized for a day, and when he was discharged the police called him to tell him they needed his testimony. They claimed to have captured the attackers.

Abu Armilla duly went to the police to lodge a complaint, but to his surprise, and even though the policemen accepted his complaint, he was not asked to participate in a live lineup or even a photo lineup. One of the policemen told him nothing would have happened had he not tried to document the incident in the first place.

This is a classic position of the police: the problem is a result of the camera. As far as the cops are concerned, this is certainly true. Cameras create an independent documentation of the incident, which time after time hinders the police in advocating its own version of events. In a series of incidents, independent documentation proved rather embarrassing to the security forces. The police would certainly have preferred if the phenomenon of “little brother” – the ability of any person to document improper behavior by the security forces – did not exist. Abu Ramilla stood his ground and turned over the footage he managed to capture from the beginning of the incident.

He hasn’t heard from the police since. He says he can identify the Israeli civilians involved and wants the soldier involved in his attack to be put on trial.

And he’s right. One of the main duties of a soldier in the West Bank is defending the population considered “protected persons” under international law – including from violence. The soldier in this case betrayed his office: instead of preventing a crime, he became partner to it. By so doing he joins a long tradition of IDF soldiers standing idly by – i.e., being present during violent incidents by settlers against Palestinians who do not use their authority to put an end to the violence and detain the attackers.

At the end of May, Adv. Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man of the Yesh Din legal team lodged a complaint with the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division (MPCID) and demanded an investigation against the soldier. She noted that the footage turned over by Abu Armilla to the police allows for the identification of the civilians who attacked him. Moreover they may also be interrogated regarding the identity of the soldier who accompanied them.

That, of course, depends on MPCID and the military prosecution refraining from their favorite tactic: delaying the investigation until the suspect is no longer subject to military law. We’ll keep you posted.

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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