Investigation of vandalism of Palestinian trees: One indictment in 162 investigations

Investigation of vandalism of Palestinian trees: One indictment in 162 investigations
Cut down trees in al-Mughayir, October 2012. Photo: Firas Alami, Yesh Din
Upon the start of the olive harvest season, the human rights organization Yesh Din published an updated datasheet about vandalism on Palestinian trees. The data indicates that no indictments were served in any of the 35 incidents of tree vandalism documented by Yesh Din in the last year. Only one of the 162 investigations Yesh Din has been monitoring since 2005 has so far led to an indictment being served against suspects of involvement in the offences; this indictment was served more than four years after the incident.

Since 2005 Yesh Din has been monitoring investigations by the Judea and Samaria District Police into 162 discrete incidents of vandalism of Palestinian trees in the occupied territories. In many cases the vandalism is targeted at olive trees but other trees have been damaged as well, among them almond and lemon trees.

The results of our monitoring indicate an ongoing failure of the JS District Police to investigate crimes of tree vandalism: 142 investigation files were closed under circumstances that indicate a failure of the investigators to conduct their investigation and only one single investigation (of an incident that occurred in the summer of 2007) led to an indictment.

The investigation files under Yesh Din’s monitoring constitute a very broad sample of the total investigation files managed by the JS district of the Israel Police into "ideological" crimes by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the West Bank. This failure of the JS district to investigate incidents of tree vandalism is only one aspect of its ongoing and broad failure to enforce the law against ideological crimes by Israeli citizens against Palestinians in the occupied territories. Yesh Din's data about the total investigation files under the organization's monitoring indicate that in less than 9% of all files being monitored did the investigation end with an indictment, and 84% of the investigations are closed under circumstances that indicate a failure of the law enforcement authorities to complete their investigation.

"The phenomenon of tree vandalism continues even more forcefully this year and targets the property and livelihood of many Palestinian families," said Ziv Stahl of Yesh Din's research department. "The police’s failure to enforce the law and protect the Palestinians' property encourages this phenomenon because the criminals who go unpunished are not deterred from repeating their actions."

Said Ahmad Jaber from the village of Qaryut, 120 of whose olive trees were cut down on October 9, 2012: "I have lost my faith in the Israeli police and I do not believe those who are responsible will be found. About three years ago my brother and I had 100 of our olive trees cut down. The police collected testimonies but nothing happened. This is a major loss for me. I raised these trees and took care of them as if they were my children. These trees were hundreds of years old. I inherited them from my grandfather. The trees are not only my livelihood, they are a symbol."

Incidents of tree vandalism in the years 2005-2012

Of 162 investigation files into vandalism targeting Palestinian trees under Yesh Din's monitoring:
one investigation resulted in an indictment
147 investigation files were closed. Of those:
  • 124 files were closed on grounds of "perpetrator unknown," which indicates the investigators' failure to locate and identify suspects in committing the offenses;
  • 16 files were closed on grounds of "insufficient evidence," which indicates the investigators' failure to collect and consolidate sufficient evidence to prosecute the suspects who were located;
  • Two investigation files closed on grounds of "absence of criminal culpability;”
  • Five investigation files were closed without grounds for closure being provided to Yesh Din;
  • 95 per cent of files closed on grounds that indicate failure of investigation.
11 files are still under investigation
• the investigation of one incident ended and the investigation material was transferred to review by a prosecutor, who will decide whether to submit an indictment or close the investigation file
• two files were lost and never investigated
 


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