One of the most problematic phenomena in Israel’s law enforcement failure in the West Bank is the evaporation of a large number of criminal complaints, simply because there is no point in complaining
“The spectrum of possible reasons for the lack of complaints may range from acceptance of the fact and a natural inclination not to complain, to disinclination to come in contact with the authorities, to fear resulting from a threat or concern of retribution, to reaching the conclusions from the lack of results in earlier complaints to the police, or the refusal of the police to deal with complaints”.
These words were spot-on when they were written in the Karp Report, which was presented to the Attorney General in May 1982 and broke new ground on the issue of the lack of law enforcement in the West Bank, and are even truer today, after 30 more years of distrust of the Israeli law enforcement system.
We have recently published our new report Mock Enforcement, describing the state of law enforcement in the West Bank, based on the data we collected over the ten years of Yesh Din’s activity. Among the phenomena which ought to worry the decision-makers, the increasing refusal of Palestinians to complain to the Israel Police about offenses against them should have a prominent place.
Yesh Din began focusing on documenting this phenomenon in 2013, so as to get a better explanation of the circumstances in which victims refuse to complain to the police. We decided to do so after a long series of meetings with victims, who made it clear to us that they would not complain. The phrase the victims kept repeating was an Arab proverb: “When the judge is your enemy, to whom shall you complain?”
Between January 2013 and November 2014, Yesh Din documented 282 violations against Palestinians. In 66 cases, i.e. 23%, we were told by the victims expressly that they did not wish to lodge a complaint with the police.
There are several reasons for this. The first is that the victims are right: it’s a waste of their time. According to our latest data, the chances of the police getting someone indicted as a result of a complaint by a Palestinian – that the police will both find the suspect and gather sufficient evidence against him – is only 7.4%. But even if the police succeeded in doing its job, and a suspect was indicted, the chances of a conviction would be slim. Ultimately, the chance that a complaint by a Palestinian victim to the police will result in a conviction is only 1.8%, i.e. a chance of less than 1:50.
In order to even shake the dice and bet on this trifling chance, the complainant has to come to a police station and lodge a complaint. This is always time-consuming, and sometimes the complainant requires a police escort, as the police station is inside a settlement. Even if he made it to the station, in many cases he would find out that his testimony could be taken, as there was no Arabic-speaking policeman present. Then he would be required to repeat the whole process some other time.
Secondly, in a series of documented cases, the police investigators humiliated the complainants, mocked them, made it clear to them there was no point in the process (“Do you think a complaint will restore your rights?“),or even hinted that they were in fact responsible for the violations they complained about.
And if this weren’t enough, about a quarter of the victims who refused to lodge complaints pointed to a more serious problem: they had already been victimized before, lodged complaints, and felt that the complaints changed nothing. At least one person, Farrah Abad of Jaloud, told us that following the complaints he made, violence against him only intensified. “Now our little children live under mental duress”, he told Yesh Din. “I have no faith in the Israeli system. I reached this conclusion after many complaints which yielded no results”.
The feeling that there is no point in complaining is very prevalent, and the Israeli authorities do not do enough to combat it. It should be noted that according to our latest data, despite all the talk of an uncompromising fight against ideological crime, at the end of the day 25% of the ideological criminals – of the minority that is brought to court at all – are not convicted. The court finds them guilty without conviction. That is, refrains from putting them under the onus of a criminal conviction. This is a relatively rare procedure, intended to prevent a person who misstep from paying the full price. In the Israeli magistrate courts the rate of finding a person guilty without conviction is 5.3%; in the district courts, just 1.2%. That is, when it comes to ideological criminals, the justice system is not exactly Justitia, the goddess of justice, armed with the sword, as it would like us to imagine; it is more like an angel of mercy from 19th century art.
The Israeli justice system – from its inaccessible police stations through its lenient prosecutors, from its negligent investigators to its judges who won’t convict – makes it clear to the Palestinians that there is simply no point. That all the efforts and the risk they take on themselves leave them with a laughable chance at justice.
The result of the Palestinian lack of trust in the system is a whole wave of ideological criminality the system is unaware of. If it cared about its duty, one would assume that it would be concerned about the 23% of unreported attacks. However, more than 30 years after the Karp Report, it’s very hard to believe it actually cares.