Law enforcement vis-à-vis Israeli military and police personnel operating in the OPT is carried out both under Israeli law and in light of the obligations incumbent on the occupying force in the West Bank under international law. The State of Israel has a duty to conduct efficient investigations when members of its security forces are suspected of having committed offenses against Palestinians and to prosecute them where appropriate.
Israeli law enforcement responses to offenses perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli military and police personnel are deeply flawed. Some of the issues are individual, while others are systemic and fundamental. Yesh Din has documented incidents of harm perpetrated by Israeli security forces against Palestinians and their property in the OPT for over a decade. Every year, Yesh Din publishes detailed data and a thorough analysis regarding the failure of Israel’s law enforcement establishment to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces suspected of offenses against Palestinians.
This information sheet focuses on one pattern of the plethora of issues flagged over the years in Yesh Din’s publications. It presents five examples of investigations in which the Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID) or the Department of Police Investigations (DPI) had reasonable grounds to believe members of Israeli security forces had committed a criminal offense, and yet the investigation files were closed because the investigators failed, or were not compelled, to find the perpetrators.
The examples presented demonstrate how investigation authorities fail to complete even the most fundamental investigative steps – finding the military or police unit present at the scene of the incident and question or interrogate the individuals involved. “We were unable to locate the perpetrator” as grounds for closing an investigation file indicates enforcement authorities share the view that there are reasonable grounds to suspect an offense had been committed. Yet, a review of the investigation files reveals investigators do not apply meaningful efforts to locate the perpetrators. This is the case even when the attack takes place inside a police vehicle, even when investigators know which battalion the implicated unit belongs to, and even when there is video documentation of the incident in which the faces of the soldiers are clearly visible.
The poor quality of these investigations and the little effort put into them obviously do not reflect the true capacities of the investigative authorities. It is clear that the reluctance to investigate, inadequate investigation measures, lack of resources and general lethargy and lack of professionalism shown by investigators are the product of deliberate Israeli tokenism designed to create the semblance of law enforcement.
In practice, Israeli soldiers and police officers are granted near complete immunity from prosecution for offenses they commit against Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who are protected persons under international law. The unmistakable message is that Palestinian lives do not matter.
The failure of Israel’s law enforcement system to thoroughly and effectively investigate complaints of violence against Palestinians by members of Israel’s security forces and bring offenders to justice normalizes these offenses, rendering them yet another element of the Israeli military control apparatus in the OPT.