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State Attorney's Office denies appeal regarding closing of DIP investigation of police violence

On Friday, 13 May 2011, a demonstration was held in the village of a-Nabi Saleh, Ramallah District. It was one of the routine weekly demonstrations protesting settlers' takeover of villag...
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State Attorney's Office denies appeal regarding closing of DIP investigation of police violence

On Friday, 13 May 2011, a demonstration was held in the village of a-Nabi Saleh, Ramallah District. It was one of the routine weekly demonstrations protesting settlers' takeover of village land. The demonstrators included Palestinians, Israelis, and foreign nationals. Border Police dispersed the demonstration with extensive use of crowd control means and harsh violence: police beat demonstrators both bare-handed and with clubs, swore at demonstrators, sprayed some with pepper spray, and arrested demonstrators with excessive use of force.

In addition, Border Police officers fired teargas canisters directly at demonstrators, injuring two: Israeli citizen Ben Ronen, whose hand was severely wounded; and U.S. citizen Christopher Whitman who sustained a head injury.

The violent dispersal of the demonstration was captured on film by several photographers, including Nariman Tamimi and Bilal Tamimi, who live in a-Nabi Saleh and volunteer in B'Tselem's camera project.

Subsequently, five demonstrators – four Israeli citizens and one U.S. citizen – filed complaints with the Department for the Investigation of Police (DIP) against Border Police officers. The DIP opened a single case file for all the complaints.

On 30 January 2012, the DIP informed the complainants that the investigation file concerning the teargas canister injury to Ben Ronen would be closed for lack of evidence. Regarding the complaints of Border Police violence against all five complainants and the teargas canister injury to Christopher Whitman, the DIP found that the circumstances of the incident did not warrant a criminal investigation.

On 3 May 2012, Att. Gaby Lasky appealed to the State Attorney on behalf of B'Tselem regarding these decisions by the DIP. The appeal demanded that the officers involved in shooting Ben Ronen be indicted and that an exhaustive investigation be carried out of the complaints concerning Christopher Whitman’s injury and violence against Yuval Halperin’s person. Neither complaint had been investigated. More than a year and a half later, on 30 January 2014, Att. Lasky was informed that Deputy State Attorney Yehuda Shaffer had found no grounds to reverse the DIP's decision and denied the appeal.

In denying the appeal, the State Attorney's Office argued that the complainants’ presence in the area was illegal as it had been declared a closed military zone, and that the complainants had refused to leave even after the police made an announcement by to this effect by megaphone and asked them to disperse. The State Attorney's Office made no mention of the specific incidents in which appellants Ben Ronen and Christopher Whitman were injured by the firing of teargas canisters, noting only that video footage indicated that "the firing was oblique and aimed at an open area and was not intended to directly hit any of the demonstrators". In fact, however, video footage clearly shows a Border Police officer firing directly at Ronen from short range, in response to a commander's order to fire the teargas at him. Yet like the DIP, the State Attorney's Office chose to accept the version provided by the police officer who fired and his commander, namely, that the shooting was indirect and was not intended to hit Ronen.

The State Attorney's Office also chose to ignore the appeal’s argument that the DIP had not investigated Ronen's complaint of being beaten with a club prior to being shot, the clear video footage of the incident notwithstanding.

With regard to Yuval Halperin's complaint of being beaten by police, which the DIP chose not to investigate, the State Attorney's Office cited an unreasonable discrepancy between the description Halperin gave to the DIP of his beating and photographs of the injuries to his body and the fact that he did not require medical treatment. Once more, this statement contradicts video footage of the incident, which clearly shows police officers repeatedly striking Halperin on various parts of his body.

The DIP failed to meet its duties in handling this case: the investigation was partial and deficient, and the ultimate decision to close the case and not so even investigate other serious complaints of violence and shooting in the same incident cannot be justified. That the State Attorney's Office supported this decision is of equally grave concern.

When state authorities handle complaints of police violence so incompletely and inadequately, they essentially convey a dangerous message to police in the field is that the system has no intention of bringing officers to justice for overstepping the bounds of their authority or for harming civilians. This is a breach of the law enforcement system's duty to protect civilians, rendering it an accomplice to violation of civilians' rights by security forces.