The police arrest a suspect for throwing stones at Palestinians, but that’s before they close the case.
When shall we begin?
We can start on the day of the incident in question. It’s March 23, 2015, Sabbath eve, in the West Bank village of Burin, near Nablus. The Zaban family members are at their house, in the northeast side of the village, when they hear “strange and loud voices.” Looking outside, they see “hundreds of settlers coming down from [the settlement of Har] Bracha, dressed in white.” About 50 of them move toward the Zaban residence and begin throwing stones at it. “We were all very scared,” Ashraf Zaban will later say, “we have three little children in the house, and they too were very scared. We felt trapped”.
At around the same time, an IDF observation post confirms that some 30 Israeli civilians are, in fact, in the village of Burin. Army and police force are on their way.
Perhaps it all began in 2003? That’s when the Zaban family completed building their house and moved into it. But suddenly after its completion, says Ashraf, the harassment began: stone throwing, shouting, and shooting at the house. He presents the bullet holes; some of the bullets also punctured the water containers. The difference is that in April 2010, the police has a suspect who was caught red-handed.
Back to the incident in April 2010. Dozens of settlers in Sabbath clothes climb down from Har Bracha, try to reach Burin, and stone some of the houses in the village. The first force on the scene is led by IDF Lt. Col. U. He notices 30 Israeli civilians making their way back from Burin to Har Bracha and immediately decides to do nothing. That is, he does not detain any potential suspects.
When he reaches Burin, U. – as he will recount the police – encounters some 20 Israeli civilians busily stoning the houses of the Palestinians. U. begins to push them back in the direction of Bracha. Again: he does not detain them – even though they are attacking Palestinians before his very eyes – but kicks them out of the village.
And yet, there are four Israeli civilians who fuel the riot and against whom he decides to act.
At this point, a Border Police captain, F., reaches the scene. On his way, U. orders F. to detain the four “ringleaders.” He tries to do so, but with very limited success: three of the four simply run away from the police by foot, vanish into Bracha, and thereby no longer play a part in our story. But F. and three other police manage to capture the fourth one. He resists arrest – at least according to the police reports – and three policemen are needed to handcuff him. He refuses to identify himself and the police don’t find any ID on him. They take him to a police station, check his fingerprints, and he turns out to be H.M., a resident of Har Bracha. Col. U. identifies him as the “main ringleader” he wanted detained, and tells the police he saw him throwing stones.
H.M. is questioned. He maintains his silence, which is certainly his right.
So what does the Samaria and Judea Police Division (SJPD) do? What any investigative body that is not truly interested in doing its job would do: it ignores the evidence and closes the case due to insufficient evidence.
The SJPD’s prosecution unit closes the case on December 12, 2010, but due to a bureaucratic error, our attorneys (who represent the Zaban family) receive the notice only six months later. Our attempts to look at the case is met with refusal; the police enthusiastically embraced the questionable position of the prosecution, according to which the victims of the crime cannot look at the evidence of a closed case in which no indictment was made, since it may jeopardize the chances of prosecution should the police decide to re-open the case on its own initiative. This was the position taken, even though the chances of the police re-opening a case are roughly equivalent to one’s chances of going down to hell, melting Hades’ heart with singing, forcing him to give up a soul.
This policy led to a petition to the High Court of Justice, brought forth by our attorneys on behalf of Yesh Din and other organizations representing victims of similar crimes. In the petition, we noted dozens of cases in which we were deprived of the right to examine evidence. Justice Dafna Barak-Erez expressed disquiet regarding the “cases in the dark” procedure, as she termed it. On November 12, 2012, the prosecution agreed to begin allowing the examination of its cases (Hebrew).
As a result of the appeal, the police were forced to turn over the investigation file on March 17, 2013. Our attorneys examined the case and appealed the decision to close it around one month later.
The appeal was rejected. The reason: too much time has passed.
Why do I bother you with a case from 2010? Because we can see in it the smoking gun which will lead us, in July 2015, to the murder of the Dawabshe family in Duma. The Zaban house is routinely attacked for seven years; these attacks range from threats to gunfire. The official response of the authorities is silence. Then comes the incident in April 2010: the army allow some 30 marauders to escape without making a serious effort to detain them. When the police do detain a suspect and gather sufficient evidence against him for a near-certain conviction, it drops the case in what our appeal called “an incoherent and unreasonable decision, which in fact undermines the rule of law”.
The result: the people who ran a campaign of terror against the Zaban family for years learned their lesson. You can do what you want. You can lay siege to a house and stone it while three children scream in terror; you can shoot at the house and its water containers, because there will be no investigation. And if there is one, it will be closed. Don’t worry, whisper the law enforcement authorities, we’ve got your back.
And above all, we have the inaction of Col. U. He sees Israeli civilians who just came back from starting a riot – and does nothing.
As per SOP.