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Standard Routine: Beatings and Abuse of Palestinians by Israeli Security Forces during the Al-Aqsa Intifada

May 2001, Summary

Security forces' violence against the Palestinian population is not new or unique to the current intifada. With the outbreak of the intifada, there has definitely been a significant increase in the number of beatings and abuse, a result, in part, of the increased friction between residents of the Occupied Territories and the security forces. However, the phenomenon itself has existed for many years.

In most of the cases, the abuse is given in "a small dose," such as a slap, a kick, an insult, a senseless delay at checkpoints, or humiliating treatment. Over the years, these acts have become an integral part of the daily life of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. At times, though, the violence is severe, such as those presented in this report.

Many cases of abuse are not made public because they have long been accepted as the norm, and if Palestinians filed a complaint in each instance, they would have to dedicate most of their time to this process. Furthermore, many Palestinians, primarily those who enter Israel illegally, refrain from complaining even in incidents of severe violence, fearing that filing a complaint will harm them. Many do not file complaints because their past experience has resulted in a lack of trust in the judicial system, which tends not to believe them and to protect, rather than prosecute, those who attacked them. A Palestinian who wants to file a complaint faces numerous obstacles inherent in the great difficulty in moving about the Occupied Territories, a consequence of Israel's numerous restrictions on movement of Palestinians.

Israeli law and international law provide that security forces may use reasonable force in limited circumstances, such as self-defense or when a suspect resists arrest. However, in the cases presented in this report, as in many other cases, there have been clear breaches of the law and flagrant violations of human rights.

This report presents twelve Palestinian testimonies that describe the beatings and abuse of twenty-four Palestinians that took place in recent months throughout the West Bank. In seven of the cases, IDF soldiers beat the Palestinians, and in five cases, the Border Police was involved. In the cases presented, the eldest person injured is fifty-eight and eleven of those injured are minors. The youngest is an infant of three, whose hand was broken by border policemen. In some of the cases, the Palestinians who were beaten required hospital treatment and follow-up medical care.

IDF

In recent years, the Judge Advocate's Office has almost routinely sent complaints of beatings and abuse filed by B'Tselem to the Military Investigations Unit (MIU) for investigation. In most of these cases, MIU investigated superficially without making any real attempt to find out the truth or thoroughly investigate the complaint. Despite these problems, however, the existence of an MIU investigation served a preventive function to some degree.

B'Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate's Office about the cases described in this report and requested that MIU open investigations and prosecute those responsible. However, unlike in the past, B'Tselem was informed that the matter had been forwarded to the Judge Advocate for the Central Region Command. The Judge Advocate's Office explained to B'Tselem the effect of this change: rather than an MIU investigation, an Examining Officer is assigned to look into the matter. The Examining Officer is appointed by the Regional Command's Judge Advocate to investigate suspected penal offenses. These Examining Officers, unlike MIU investigators, are unskilled in conducting investigations and perform this function along with their regular functions.

In the beginning of the Al-Aqsa intifada, the Judge Advocate's Office informed B'Tselem that, unlike its previous policy, it does not intend to open MIU investigations where Palestinians are injured by security forces' gunfire. According to the Judge Advocate's Office, "Based on a view of the current situation in the areas as an armed conflict and based on customary military norms in a combat situation, we think that it is improper to open MIU investigations solely on the basis of persons being injured as a result of the combat situation, unless there is suspicion of a gross violation of the binding rules of conduct." In the past, B'Tselem criticized this policy of the Judge Advocate's Office, which contravenes the policy that had been implemented prior to the beginning of the intifada, pursuant to which MIU investigated every case where a Palestinian was killed or seriously injured by security forces' gunfire.

Expansion of this policy to include cases of beatings and abuse, which even according to the Judge Advocate's Office's way of thinking is a "gross violation of the binding rules of conduct" and whose victims were not injured "as a result of the combat situation," is particularly grave and indicates the superficial and lenient attitude of the military to such acts.

Border Police

Over the years, the media has published many incidents of beatings and abuse of Palestinians by Border Police. In most of the cases, officials argued that they were exceptional cases.

The Border Police commander, Major General Ya'akov Ganot, in his response to B'Tselem's letter regarding Border Police brutality against Palestinians, wrote that, "The phenomenon of the use of illegal force by Border Police is an issue that frequently engages the Border Police command and unit commanders and lies at the heart of the corps' educational and information activity." According to Ganot, the Border Police makes a special effort, both at the beginning of selection, during training, and during the period of service itself, to make it clear to Border Police officers that violence against Palestinians is forbidden.

The Border Police commander's awareness of the phenomenon of brutality is praiseworthy. However, these actions are insufficient, and unfortunately, the violence and humiliation by border policemen against Palestinians continues to be widespread.

The Police Ordinance grants powers to the Police Commissioner to suspend a police officer under investigation or when he is satisfied that the police officer is not suitable to perform his duties. In practice, however, suspending a police officer who is being investigated is only considered upon conclusion of the investigation. Even if the police officer is convicted by a court, the suspension is not automatic, and if it is decided not to suspend the officer after the investigation material is submitted, the decision is reconsidered at the end of the judicial proceedings against the officer.

The fact that police officers whom the Department for Investigation of Police recommended be criminally prosecuted for excessive use of force can continue to serve in their units as if nothing had occurred is grave and inconsistent with the declarations of senior Border Police officials that such cases are treated with severity.

Complaints relating to brutality by police officers are investigated by the Department for Investigation of Police (DIP), of the Ministry of Justice, which was established in 1992. This report does not deal with DIP's work procedures, focusing instead on documentation of the phenomenon of brutality. However, because DIP decided in several cases to close the investigation file, on the grounds that the complainant refused to cooperate with the investigators, it is appropriate to mention the difficulties that Palestinian complainants face in addition to the basic problem of cooperating with the Israeli authorities.

First, in many cases, Palestinians who were beaten are unable to identify the police officers who injured them, in part because Border Police, contrary to law, do not carry identification tags and refuse to identify themselves. Second, in many cases, Palestinians are unable to reach the places where they are to give testimony, which is often within Israel, and they are not provided permits to enter Israel or places within the Occupied Territories which they are currently unable to reach.

DIP has the responsibility to conduct an efficient and thorough investigation, and it must do everything possible to make it easy for complainants to give their version of the incident. If a complainant does not cooperate, DIP must find alternate ways to investigate the complaint, and the failure to cooperate does not itself justify closing the investigation file.

Conclusions

Many of the human rights violations that Israel commits in the Occupied Territories are justified by various Israeli officials on the grounds of "security needs." In this way, they seek to justify restrictions on freedom of movement, the assassinations policy, firing at unarmed demonstrators, and many other violations. However, the authorities unreservely condemn cases of beatings and abuse.

However, these condemnations remain solely declarative, while security forces, misusing their power, continue to abuse and beat Palestinians, among them children. Both the army and the Border Police have yet to make it unequivocally clear to security forces serving in the Occupied Territories that it is absolutely forbidden to abuse and beat Palestinians, and their educational and PR actions in this regard have been more lip service than a frank and honest attempt to uproot the phenomenon once and for all.

The defense establishment's refusal to issue a message of this kind to forces serving in the Occupied Territories has far-reaching consequences. If any message is sent to security forces, it is that, even if the establishment does not accept acts of violence, it will not take measures against those who commit them. The effect of such a message is that the lives and dignity of Palestinians are meaningless and that security forces can continue, pursuant to the function they serve, to abuse, humiliate, and beat Palestinians with whom they come into contact.

Israel is the occupier in the Occupied Territories, and as such, is responsible for the safety and well-being of the Palestinian residents. To perform this function, B'Tselem again urges the Israeli authorities to adopt, at a minimum, the following measures:

  • Clarify unequivocally to all security forces serving in the Occupied Territories, through detailed education and information programs, the absolute prohibition on abusing and beating Palestinians, even when they ostensibly violate the law;
  • Seriously investigate every complaint filed by Palestinians regarding beatings and abuse by security forces;
  • Suspend, until the end of the investigation against them, police officers and soldiers suspected of using force, and where the investigation indicates that the complaint is justified, prosecute the offenders;
  • Require all security forces coming in contact with the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Territories to wear identification tags in Hebrew and Arabic.