The comprehensive report A Semblance of Law: Law Enforcement on Israeli Civilians in the West Bank is a product of Yesh Din’s ongoing monitoring and study of the IDF and the Samaria and Judea (SJ) District Police force’s treatment of violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians. It portrays a grim reality of Israeli enforcement authorities’ systematic evasion of applying the law on Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians in the West Bank and damage their property.
Violence perpetrated by Israeli citizens against Palestinian civilians and their property is almost a daily occurrence in the Occupied Territories, and has been for many years. However, major failures were identified at each and every stage of the law enforcement process examined by the report. At the stage the offense is committed, soldiers were frequently observed standing idly by – in other words, soldiers present at the scene of the offense committed by Israeli civilians failed to try and detain suspects and hand them over to the police; at the stage of filing complaints, Palestinians who seek to file complaints face significant physical and bureaucratic obstacles.
This report is exceptional in that it publicly exposes for the first time the failures and deficiencies by the SJ District Police – the district responsible for investigating offenses committed by Israelis in the West Bank – to handle complaints at the investigation stage. This is the largest district of the Israel Police in terms of the territory it covers, however it suffers from a shortage of manpower and an insufficient budget. Only 5.67 percent of the police officers served in this district as of publication of the report, and its budget was a mere 2.5 percent of the entire police force budget. This district also suffers from a series of additional fundamental problems, inter alia, since the it is located inside occupied territories where the military represents the sovereign’s authority, its subordination to the IDF sometimes leads IDF officers or Civil Administration officials to interfere in police investigations.
The report examined 92 investigation files that Yesh Din monitored – mostly in 2005 and 2006, but some also in previous years – and found that over 90 percent of the investigations of complaints and files closed ended without indictment; 96 percent of the files regarding trespassing (including vandalism of Palestinian-owned trees) closed ended without indictment; 100 percent of the property files closed ended without indictment; 79 percent of the assault files that were closed also ended without indictment; approximately 5 percent of the files surveyed were lost by the police.
This first report published by Yesh Din presents a series of investigative flaws documented by Yesh Din volunteers and staff over the years, among them: the absence of police lineups; failure to confirm alibis provided by suspects; closing investigation files without trial despite an accumulation of investigative materials that require a trial; often times the materials in the investigation files are sparse, which points to impetuous closures of files soon after the complaint is received.