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From the field

Military Police investigation: Soldiers beat detainee, security camera operators distorted footage, investigation authorities covered up

Update: On 27 May 2013, B’Tselem applied to the MAG Corps and the DIP, demanding they investigate the conduct of the soldiers and Border Police in the incident. The next day, 28 May 2013, the MAG Corps informed B’Tselem an MPIU investigation of the incident had been launched. The DIP also launched an investigation. On 29 September 2013 the DIP informed B’Tselem that a decision had been made to indict a suspect in the case on charges of unlawful use of force; the criminal proceedings would be held at the Police Disciplinary Court. On 30 March 2014 the MAG Corps informed B'Tselem that two soldiers, found to have used excessive force in subduing the complainant who resisted arrest, would face disciplinary hearings.

Palestinian youth detained for a month, released after footage revealed

The Military Police Investigations Unit (MPIU) will investigate a serious incident in which soldiers and Border Policemen beat a Palestinian youth while arresting him. The incident was captured by a security camera of the Ofra settlement, but the camera operators diverted the camera from the violent scene, apparently so as to avoid documenting it, and the video footage of the arrest was not transferred to the detainee’s defense attorney for nearly a month, during which time the youngster was held in detention. The MPIU only notified B’Tselem today that an investigation is to be opened, after the organization wrote urgently yesterday to demand investigation into the violent arrest and into suspicions of disruption of proceedings and failure to report a crime by the persons involved in the filming or persons who knew of it.

Video footage of the violent arrest 

The incident took place in the village of Silwad, east of Ramallah, on 26 April 2013. However, the video footage was revealed only after the detainee, Muhammad Dar Sa’ad from the village of al-Mazra'ah a-Sharqiyah, was held in detention for nearly a month, and only thanks to efforts made by his attorney, Nery Ramati of Gaby Lasky and Partners, Law Offices. Once the footage was revealed, the military prosecution withdrew its claim that Dar Sa’ad had thrown stones and he was released.

In its request to open a criminal investigation, B’Tselem stated that the footage of the arrest had clearly been viewed by several different persons before reaching Att. Ramati: The camera operators, the security coordinator of the Ofra settlement, and the police investigators and military prosecution, who learned of the violence last week. All were obliged to transfer the footage to the appropriate law enforcement authorities and to demand that the severe violence documented in to be investigated; their choice to refrain from action raises grave suspicion of disruption of legal proceedings. In addition, soldiers and officers who were at the scene witnessed the violence, but none of them reported it to the law enforcement authorities in real time as required by law and by military orders.

The footage shows Palestinian youngsters around the entrance to the village of Silwad. At a certain point (00:15), a soldier is seen arresting Dar Sa’ad, forcing him to the ground and beating him. Two soldiers join him and begin punching and kicking the prostrate detainee. The camera is then suddenly shifted in a different direction, where nothing relevant is occurring. Later, the camera shifts back to the soldiers, who are putting the detainee in a jeep (1:30). However, once the camera captures two soldiers kicking and beating the detainee, the operator zooms out so that the image becomes remote and unclear. Later (5:17), a Border Policeman is also seen kicking Dar Sa’ad, who is handcuffed and being put in a jeep. Then, again, the camera zooms out and the rest of the incident cannot be seen.

Detailed description of the event:

Muhammad Dar Sa’ad. Photo: Iyad Hadad, B'TselemDar Sa’ad was arrested last month, on 26 April 2013, during clashes between Palestinian youngsters and the army in the village of Silwad. He was interrogated at the Binyamin police station. In his interrogation, he denied having thrown stones and stated that he had come to where the confrontation was taking place out of curiosity, mere minutes before he was arrested. He further stated that he had been beaten by the security forces that had arrested him. The police investigators took no action to corroborate his alibi or deal with his complaint of violent treatment. On 5 May 2013, he was indicted for throwing stones.

On 7 May 2013, Judge Lieut. Col. Ami Navon of the military court at Ofer ordered Dar Sa’ad’s arrest until the end of legal proceedings. The judge chose to rely on a single testimony given to the police by a soldier from the Duchifat Battalion of the Kfir Brigade who had carried out the arrest, despite the contradiction between his testimony and the version presented by the Palestinian defendant. This, based on military court case law according to which a single incriminating testimony by a member of the security forces is sufficient to hold a Palestinian in detention till the end of legal proceedings.

Defense counsel Att. Nery Ramati appealed the decision. In a hearing held two days later, on 9 May 2013, Judge Lieut. Col. Zvi Lekach of the military appeals court left Dar Sa’ad in detention, but ordered the military prosecution to complete the investigation and obtain the footage captured by the security camera at which, according to the soldier’s testimony, the detainee had thrown stones.

However, in another hearing held on 20 May 2013, the prosecution was unable to present the footage, even though a police investigator had watched it. The military prosecutor admitted that “there is difficulty in obtaining the photographs from that community” and that the prosecution was trying to talk to the Ofra security coordinator.

It was only on 22 May 2013, almost a month after the arrest, that the footage shown to all parties. When it transpired that the footage supported the Palestinian detainee’s version that he had been beaten by the soldiers arresting him, the prosecution decided to withdraw the charge of stone-throwing and replace it with a charge of participating in an unlicensed procession. Dar Sa’ad was released after being convicted in a plea bargain for the minor offense of participating in an unlicensed procession.