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Israel's justice system fails to protect the Palestinians it rules

Many Palestinians have despaired of complaining about violations against them. Yesh Din’s new report, “The Road to Dispossession,” shows why.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Farmer and settlers (Anne Paq / Activestills)

A Jewish settler stands over a Palestinian farmer [illustrative photo]. (Anne Paq / Activestills)

April 14, 2011 was a special morning for the Hizme family from the village of Turmusaya: it was one of the few days they were allowed to work their land, which unfortunately for them is close to the illegal outpost Adei Ad. They received the necessary permits from the army. Even so, some 90 minutes after they started working, IDF personnel showed up and asked them to leave, so as not to “cause problems with the settlers.” A short while later, an Israeli vehicle came around and seven Israeli civilians stepped out of it. When the soldiers noticed the civilians, they broadcast a “good morning” over their jeep loudspeaker system.

As the good civilians left their vehicle, some of them hooded, they started attacking the Palestinians. The assault, which included use of clubs and tear gas, went on for several long minutes, as the soldiers in the jeep did nothing. During history lessons, we used to call an attack by a group of civilians on others as the agents of the government did nothing “pogroms”; the Israeli media prefers the term “clashes.” In the end, the soldiers fired some rounds in the air and the attackers took the hint and retreated. It’s time to say, again, that IDF soldiers are, legally, both entitled and obliged to prevent such attacks and they are empowered to detain the rioters until police show up.

One might have expected the police would crack this case relatively easily. The Palestinians photographed their attackers, and one of the wounded recognized the people assaulting him. Furthermore, given the cordial greetings by the soldiers in the jeep, it’s reasonable to assume they soldiers were familiar with the gang members. Even so, no indictments were served in this case. Police only bothered to interrogate the main suspect after three months, and then were satisfied with answers to general questions. The suspect was not, for instance, asked to supply an alibi. Neither did the police bother to find the soldiers who witnessed the assault.

This isn’t the only case of its kind. In a series of documented cases, the police simply refused to lodge the Palestinians’ complaints. Rabah Hizme, also a resident of Turmusaya, on August 6, 2009 wanted to register a complaint against an Israeli citizen who fired at him and with a drawn weapon, chased him to his village; the police refused to accept the complaint, claiming the gunman was engaged in self defense. This is interesting: the police basically decided the result of the investigation even as it refused to open one. In other cases, when a Palestinian wants to lodge a complaint, he is systematically worn down: ‘come back tomorrow,’ ‘we don’t have an interpreter today,’ ‘there’s no investigator today,’ and ‘why didn’t you bring the documents we never asked you to bring.’ The goal, as with the robotic replies of a cellular company’s automated phone system, is to convince the victims that there is no point, that he’s wasting his time, that nothing will come out of this.

Even when the police deign to register the complaint, the likelihood that something will come out of it is smaller than a Wall Street banker returning his loot. Of the cases followed by Yesh Din, 94 percent were closed without indictment. In 92 percent of those cases, the reason was the failure of the investigators: either “unknown perpetrator,” meaning the police couldn’t find the criminal, or “lack of sufficient evidence.”

In the case of Hussein Abu ‘Aliya from Al Mughayer, whose trees were poisoned, when the police file was reviewed by Yesh Din, our people were astonished to find it contained just one document – Abu ‘Aliya’s complaint. The police simply did nothing. In 2008, Mahmud Mizmeh Muhammad Al’Arj, a resident of Turmusaya, registered a complaint about settlers invading his territory. The police spent quite some time trying to ascertain that the land did indeed belong to Al’Arj; and once satisfied he was telling the truth, and that the land did belong to him, the investigation ended abruptly. After all, why investigate a crime, once you realize one did happen? You might accidentally stumble on the guilty party.

This attitude is not limited to property crimes. On April 29, 2006, seven Palestinians trying to work their land near Adei Ad were attacked. About 15 armed Israelis coming out of Adei Ad assaulted them with their rifle butts, set a large black dog on them, and finally opened fire. A mare was killed in the shooting. Police didn’t bother to properly investigate, inter alia avoiding testing all the weapons in Adei Ad, or trying to find out who keeps a large black dog there. The case was closed with the police claiming lack of evidence.

Furthermore, the police do not fulfill their duties to inform the complainant about the results of the investigation; in about 70 percent of the complaints registered prior to the involvement of Yesh Din, no response was received. All of these are failures of the authorities resulting from complaints made by Palestinians. The reluctance of the authorities in the West Bank from enforcing laws on settlers is not limited to negligence in investigating their alleged crimes. All of the buildings in Adei Ad have demolitions orders against them. The great majority of those orders, particularly against homes, were not enforced.

And these are just some of the testimonies about the failure of the Israeli justice system to protect people it rules in the occupied territories. For further testimonies, I recommend reading the full report.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. 

The quiet population transfer that dares not speak its name 

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    1. aristeides

      The Israeli occupation system doesn’t “fail” to protect the Palestinians. That would suggest it makes the attempt. The entire point, as the Yesh Din report makes clear, is to use injustice and oppression to drive the Palestinians out so Jews can have their land.

      Reply to Comment
    2. What Israel has done is create a de facto jurispurdence where resident Bank Palestinians are not people but a kind of semi-autonomous cattle; the ultimate goal is to herd the cattle elsewhere. The result is so egregious that Obama felt he had to mention it in Jerusalem. The High Court’s attitude to these non-events is creating monsters. And I think part of the reason for the Court’s silence is that it is afraid–afraid–to assert its judicial independence. This will come to haunt Israel internally.

      This post is nicely understated (I liked the cell phone company analogy). You live in a world where understatement is the only way to stay sane.

      Reply to Comment