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When the police start acting like a gang

A journalist learns that if you photograph Border Policemen committing a felony, you’ll probably end up paying for it.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Masked Israeli Border Police officers (Illustrative photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Masked Israeli Border Police officers (File photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Near the end of January 2015, Amin Hassan Raneh Alawiya left his home in East Jerusalem’s Al-Azariya neighborhood and made his way to a wedding. As he later described it in his police complaint, upon leaving the house, Alawiya – a photojournalist by profession – noticed a demonstration taking place nearby. Naturally, he picked up his camera and went over to document it. A Border Police officer, whom Alawiya recognized, ordered him to move away. In fact, he gave Alawiya the choice of either moving away, getting arrested or getting shot. Alawiya went back home and photographed from there.

Two policemen then came to the house and called Alawiya to come out. When he did the two cops jumped him. They continued hitting him as he was led to their vehicle, and from what they said on the two-way radio, Alawiya understood that he was to blame for disregarding their instructions. Inside the vehicle, the policemen kept hitting him, one of them shouting, “this is for our friend,” and, “our friend will shoot you,” using the name of a third policeman. One of them also used the opportunity to curse the founder of Islam, Muhammad, until the other one told him to stop.

Who is the third cop? Ah! This is the core of the story. In May 2014, as part of his job, Alawiya documented Border Policemen assaulting a hooded child in East Jerusalem, after he was suspected of throwing stones. The policemen also took photos of themselves with the wounded child. The “friend” is one of those documented in Alawiya’s video, which enjoyed widespread distribution on Al Jazeera and other networks. Ever since, he says, he became a target for the Border Police in East Jerusalem, which he claims prevent him from filming in the city and even broke one of his cameras.

Alawiya’s detention in January was part of the Border Police’s quest for vengeance. One of the problems with police forces, particularly forces that are not subject to serious oversight, is that they tend to become a kind of gang: the permeation of a culture of violence and lies becomes common. We have seen the violence, now let’s deal with the deceitfulness.

After his detention, Alawiya was held, handcuffed and blindfolded, in the Abu Dis Border Police base for some two hours. He was then transferred to the police station in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. There he requested to file a complaint of assault against the cops, but the officer present refused to receive the complaint, and told him he should turn to the Israel Police’s internal affairs division. As we will see, this was a hollow demand that reflected the police’s negligence. Alawiya was immediately informed that he was charged with assaulting and obstructing an officer. The police then demanded Alawiya sign a document saying he was notattacked by the police. He did so, but added in Arabic that it was he who was assaulted. Soon afterward, Alawiya was led to an interrogation room, where he was informed by the interrogator that he was suspected of obstructing an officer.

Did you get what, according to the complaint, just happened? Prior to signing a document saying he was not assaulted by the police, Alawiya was accused of assaulting an officer. After he signed the document, the charge of assaulting an officer simply evaporated. There is a method here, well-known to veterans of demonstrations in Israel and East Jerusalem: as soon as you complain about police brutality, you are automatically charged with assaulting an officer.

When a police force fabricates a complaint against a civilian, especially after he complains of being assaulted by a cop, there is, to put it mildly, a gross misunderstanding of the function of the police. Its duty is to maintain law and order, not to protect itself. When it distorts reality, it lies to itself, to the public that pays its salary and to the courts. When it pins false charges on a person, it is conspiring to damage his good name, his livelihood, and in the worst case scenario, deprives him of his liberty. It then ceases to be the servant of the public and becomes its enemy; it ceases being a vehicle for safeguarding human rights and becomes a tool for their denial.

Alawiya couldn’t file a complaint with internal affairs, the Police Investigations Division (PID), since he lives in East Jerusalem, specifically in a neighborhood that lies east of the separation wall. Despite the fact that Israeli Police (which includes the Border Police) has been active in East Jerusalem since it was occupied in 1967, there is no PID station there. In order to lodge a complaint, Alawiya either needs a permit to enter Israel, or use mediators such as human rights organizations. He says that ever since he documented the young boy being abused in May 2014, his permit has been denied.

And if you thought that was bad, the story doesn’t end there: a relative of Alawiya paid NIS 2,000 for his release on bail, since being assaulted by police and and then being wrongfully detained means you need to post bail. The relative, however, did not receive a receipt for the money. What happens to money given to a policeman when no receipt is given? Your guess is as good as mine.

In March 2014, Yesh Din Attorney Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, sent a complaint to the PID, demanding an immediate investigation on suspicion of, inter alia, false arrest, assault, abuse of the power of office and conduct unbecoming.

Given that in PID closed 93 percent of the complaints submitted in 2011-2014 without any investigation; that of the 11,282 complaints in the years 2011-2013, only 2.7 percent resulted in indictments; and that the former chief of the division is on record (Hebrew) saying that the Israel Police suffers from a “culture of lies” and that policemen cover for each other, one cannot hope too much that a journalist who exposed the face of the police will see justice. And these, we note, are the results for all complaints to the internal affairs division, not just those by Palestinians. 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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