Most cases of attacks on Palestinians are closed after under the “unknown perpetrator” clause. The police have wondrous ways of unseeing criminals.

At the center of our new report, Mock Enforcement, dealing with the continued failure of Israel to enforce the law on Israeli civilians in the West Bank who harm Palestinians, stands a depressing piece of data: the police’s failure rate in investigating these crimes stands at 85.3 percent. The report examined 996 cases closed by the police, and found that the main clause for closing them is UP – “unknown perpetrator.” 593 of the cases examined were closed for that reason, which means the police did not manage to find suspects who committed the crime.

The clause is the official reason given by the police for the decision to close the case. The Israeli Police Command notes nine clauses for closing an investigative case, among them lack of guilt, lack of sufficient evidence, the fact that the suspect is a minor and, of course, unknown perpetrator.

The question that keeps surfacing when a case is closed due to UP asks just how extensive was the police’s search for the criminals. An examination of a series of cases shows that all too often that search was partial at best. At worse, it is farcical. Let’s deal with some examples, since there are some facts that simply cannot be conveyed by numbers.

On September 3rd 2009, three Israeli civilians – two of them wearing a hood, one with his face visible who was holding a stick and was walking a dog – attacked Ibrahim Tawil, a resident of the village of Faratha, on his land. The three attackers were joined by three others, all of them wearing hoods, and together they removed Ibarhim’s belt and assaulted him with it. They then undressed him, stole his wallet and watch and left him in his underwear.

In his police interrogation, Tawil identified the clear-faced attacker in the police album. However, an inner police memo claimed that according to intelligence, the person had no connection to the region or the incident. Had the police bothered to make the minimal effort and examined the suspect’s criminal record, it would have found that the attacker had a rich past of violence against Palestinians, including a conviction for using firearms. But this basic action was not undertaken, the suspect was not summoned for an interrogation and the case was closed under the UP clause.

Let’s recap: even when the Palestinian victim identified an attacker known to the police — who attacked him with his face exposed — the police managed to avoid interrogating the suspect. We appealed, and the suspect was summoned for interrogation (a year after the incident) and denied his alleged involvement. The interrogator did not ask him for an alibi, and the case was closed – again – under the UP clause.

Tawil, who lives near the Havat Gilad settlement outpost, isn’t very lucky. Two months after the first incident, on November 26th 2009, he was attacked by four hooded people who came from the direction of the outpost — two of them arriving on the scene with dogs. He was beaten with a stone on his head and a stick on his back. The timely arrival of other village residents probably prevented more serious damage. Tawil lodged a complaint with the police, describing the clothes they wore noting that he was also attacked two months earlier.

The police closed the file a month later, again claiming the unknown perpetrator clause. Even though at the time the number of people residing in Havat Gilad was 20 at most, the police declined to use the simple method of checking who among them owns dogs fitting the description given by Tawil.

Tawil, of course, is not the only victim whose attacker was never to be found. On March 17th 2011, a group of hooded Israeli civilians assaulted Sami Snoubar, a Palestinian working at construction in the settlement of Shiloh, striking his head with a metal bar and attacking him with pepper spray. The identification was partial in the extreme, relying on the testimony of a medic who identified two of them, but qualified his statement by saying he may have seen them at other incidents in the area.

The police interrogated three suspects; all of them refused to cooperate with the  investigation. Two of the suspects gave an alibi, which the Samaria Judea Police Department, displaying its usual diligence, failed to check. The case of the third suspect is more shocking: he refused to cooperate with the investigation, declining to give an alibi, and in response the investigator offered him an alibi (!) by saying that the police will allow him to call his boss so that the latter could provide him with an alibi. The case was closed under the unknown perpetrator clause.

One of the most appalling cases is that of Yassin Rifa’i. On March 14th, 2011 a Civil Administration officer informed Rifa’I, a resident of the Palestinian village Anata, that the residents of the settlement of Talmon uprooted dozens of trees from his land – allegedly as vengeance for a murder. The management of the settlement accepted responsibility for the incident and compensated Rifa’I for the damage.

The police interrogated the settlement’s security officer, who was asked whether he knew who committed the crime. The officer responded that he “preferred to keep the information to himself.” This, allegedly, is obstruction of justice, but the police did not pressure the security officer in any way, and he did not face any disciplinary action. Nor did the police try to find the Civil Administration officer who contacted Rifa’i. After all, it is much easier to scrawl “unknown perpetrator” on the case than try and find who the perpetrator really was.

The picture that arises from these cases (and many others), backed up by data, is as gloomy as it is simple: the investigators are not really trying to find the suspects. It’s unclear whether this stems from a fear that success will lead to hostility toward them from the Jewish population; whether this is the spirit of command, saying “don’t succeed too much in this realm”; whether this is laziness or a quiet sympathy with the attackers. What is clear is that there is something beyond incompetence, something near-systematic.

And when it becomes systematic, how can you blame the Palestinians who decided not to bother with lodging a complaint?