The prosecution thinks that Israeli civilians who attack Palestinians and setting their trees on fire do not merit prosecution
From time to time, the country is shaken by a particularly severe case of nationalist crimes against Palestinians, often in the form of an arson or desecration of a religious site. After each such incident, we are faced with the usual ritual: senior government or police officials stare into the cameras with a determined gaze; call the acts unconscionable; that they take the incident with a full measure of responsibility and severity; that this is not how a Jewish state acts; and that zero tolerance will be shown. These rituals usually appear against a backdrop of fear that this time the cup will finally runneth over, shattering the sacred “quiet” in the West Bank. But after a short while, everything is back to normal.
We can see just how seriously the government takes nationalist crimes from the following case. On July 26, 2010, a large group of Israeli marauders, whom eyewitnesses said came from the direction of the settlements of Yitzhar and Bracha, allegedly made their way to the land belonging to the nearby Palestinian village of Burin. According to the witnesses, the marauders burned hundreds of olive trees, some of them older than a century. Furthermore, they attacked the villagers with stones and in a few cases with clubs, and stoned the houses of the village. On that same day, some of the victims lodged a complaint with the Israeli police.
In August 2011, i.e. more than a year after the incident, the police informed Yesh Din that the case was turned to the attention of a prosecutor – that is the last we heard of the story for two years. In August 2013, the Shomron Prosecution Unit bothered to update us that they had closed the case back in December 2012. Three months later, we received the investigation material of a three-year-old incident, and tried to see whether there is any point in appealing the decision to close the case.
To the utter surprise of our attorneys, who were under the impression that the police closed the case for lack of evidence, the case files contained quite a bit of evidence. At the same time and place of the incident, three Border Policemen detained two Israeli civilians – A. and M. – after police officers testified that they saw them throwing stones at Palestinians.
The testimony of a cop, as well as the detention of suspects at the scene, is generally enough cause for prosecutorial action, particularly since the government take nationalist crime seriously, as it keeps claiming. Therefore, we appealed the decision to close the case in December 2013, demanding of A. and M. be prosecuted on suspicion of throwing stones and assaulting an officer; we also demanded that the investigation into the question of who attacked one of our clients with an iron rod and set his olive grove on fire continue.
That’s when events took a surrealistic turn. In response to our appeal, the prosecution claimed that they are well aware that there is enough evidence to indict A. and M., but said it would not do so – since it sees no reason to interfere with the decision of the Police Prosecution Unit, which closed the case for lack of public interest.
According to the prosecution, since both sides engaged in stone throwing, and since there is no precise information about how the incident began, and since there was no equivalent interrogation of Palestinian suspects, there is simply no public interest in putting the Israeli marauders on trial.
To quote our sarcastic reply, sent in April by Attorney Noa Amrami: “To sum, two Israeli civilians woke up one morning, arrived at the village of Burin and the homes and land of our clients, threw stones at them and beat them. Is there any doubt here as to who is the attacker and who the defender? With all due respect, we are not dealing with a kids’ squabble at school here, but with a criminal, methodical action of terrorizing the villagers of Burin, who suffer from the violence of the Israeli civilians residing in the region.”
What the government prefers to call nationalist crimes — and we call ideological crimes — has become a national scourge. As we emphasized here repeatedly, this is not an incident of random violence, but rather violence with a clear political goal: dispossessing Palestinians of their land so it may be transferred to Israeli civilians. The police’s failure at resolving these crimes is systematic and well documented: out of 1,045 investigation cases reviewed by Yesh Din in 2005-2014, only 7.4 percent turned into indictments. 85.2 percent of the cases were closed due to the police’s investigative failure, usually because the police failed in finding suspects or gathering enough evidence to try them.
The village of Burin is a stark example of criminal actions carried out by Israeli civilians: in the years 2005-2013 Yesh Din documented 103 incidents of criminal activity, mostly violent, by Israeli civilians against Palestinians from the village. This blog documented a series of violent actions – both by Israeli forces and Israeli civilians – toward the villagers. If we were to take the official rhetoric about the need to fight ideological crime seriously, we would expect any incident in Burin would be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
Yet in practice, even when the police detains suspects and the prosecution has enough evidence to indict them, the case is somehow closed. This time the excuse was “lack of public interest.” Bear this in mind during the next press conference when solemn promises that the police will do its best will be made.
We have asked that the appeal be reconsidered. We’ll keep you posted.