How a regular ride turns into a nightmare, under the aegis of the Israeli investigative system

It began with a normal car ride in early January 2016. Zahada Fahdi Awani Tawfiq and his friend, Janem Naal Gamal Harbi Tayb, were driving from East Jerusalem to A-Ram, where Tawfiq withdrew money from his bank account. On their way back, they were stopped at the Hizma checkpoint. Present were some military policemen, Border Policemen, and private security contractors.

A military policeman checked Tawfiq’s ID before allowing him to continue driving. Seconds later, the soldier shouted at him to stop. Tawfiq stopped the car and the soldier walked over to him, demanding to know “why did you look at the girl?” in reference to one of the female soldiers present. Tawfiq denied looking at her, but the soldier ordered him to park the car on the side.

Freeze the frame. An Israeli soldier detains a Palestinian merchant at a checkpoint because, in his opinion, the latter insulted a female soldier – not by deed, not by word, but by a glance. Even were we to accept the ridiculous claim that a glance is enough to permit detention, the one who complained was not the female soldier, but rather a male soldier who apparently felt himself victimized by the alleged insult to her modesty.

A short while after Tawfiq and Tayb were detained, a Border Policeman arrived, taking their ID cards and leaving. He returned several minutes later, ordered Tawfiq to leave the car, and tore up Tayb’s ID’s attendant note (a paper document attached to the ID card). Tawfiq demanded he identify himself, but the policeman refused.

Tawfiq asked the policeman what was he doing, and was answered: “you’ll find out soon.” The policeman announced he had to “dismantle the vehicle,” and began throwing its content on the floor – including two Korans, some paperwork, and the booster seat. At this point Tayb tried to call the police, but the policeman snatched the phone out of his hand.

The policeman then ordered the two Palestinians to return the equipment to the car. When they did, the policeman fabricated – or pretended to fabricate – a traffic report against them: he called the police, gave the car’s license plate number, and told the officer on the other hand that they are to be issued a fine of NIS 500 and “that the driver confesses to the felony.” As far as we know, however, no such fine was ever actually issued.

Unexpectedly, at that same time, two of Tawfiq’s nieces stepped off a bus at the checkpoint. He went to talk to them, and according to his testimony, the policeman then jumped on him and began beating him, including with the butt of his rifle. The policeman dragged Tawfiq to the truck checking facility, where there are no security cameras, and continued beating him. Then, according to the testimony, the policeman took the bundle of cash Tawfiq earlier withdrew from the bank. He told Tawfiq: If I ever see you again at this checkpoint, I will kill you.

And Tawfiq believed him.

Why did a Border Policeman allow himself to act as a common highwayman? Because he knew nothing would happen to him. He knew that we no longer consider justice to be a private matter, that it is no longer left to the decisions of a man who returns home humiliated, and that there is almost no chance that he will embark on his own personal war. We have a legal system, we have courts.

Both the cop turned-highwayman and Tawfiq know that when it comes to Palestinians, the system exists on paper — nowhere else.

Several days after the incident, we lodged a complaint on behalf of Tawfiq and Tayb with the Police Investigative Division (PID). Let’s just say that if it turns into an indictment, it would be a major surprise. The policeman was not acting alone: there were other policemen present, as well as MPs and private security contractors. None of them interfered, even though Tayb spoke to one of the private contractors. Tayb called the police as the event unfolded, yet received the vapid response familiar to every Israeli, “come to the station and file a complaint.” He actually did, but at the precinct they recommended he’d contact PID.

The PID knows, and has known for years, that there is a culture of lies among Israeli police. The former chief of PID, Herzl Shabiro, said so himself (Hebrew). Nor was he the first: the Orr Commission wrote that “the police has a culture of lies and cover-ups” (Hebrew) when it investigated the killing of 13 Israeli Palestinians by the Israeli police in October 2000.

Now we are asked by well wishers: why won’t you go the PID? They forget that the PID closes some two thirds of its cases without any investigation (Hebrew), and that the success rate of the cases it does investigate is nothing to write home about.

But, Israeli readers, please note: you are the ones paying the policeman’s salary. He is your responsibility. When PID closes his case, it will do so with your complicity. You are the citizens; you own this house. Does this incident shock you? Then act. Flood the PID’s mailbox with letters inquiring about the case (their address is PO Box 45208, 8th Hartom St., Har Hozvim, Jerusalem 91450). You could also contact a Knesset member from the party you voted for and ask him if he feels safe when a policeman who carried out what is for all intents and purposes a highway robbery still wears the uniform. If something deters PID, it’s public exposure.