Israeli police are a danger to Palestinian public safety

A video of an Israeli police officer assaulting a Palestinian man may have gone viral this week, leading senior officials to condemn it. It also served as a reminder that police violence is a part of everyday life for Palestinians in Israel.

The now-infamous video of an Israeli police officer beating a Palestinian man in East Jerusalem, which began circulating on social media on Thursday media, won’t leave me. I am trying to figure out precisely why these images are so disturbing and stomach-churning. After all, anyone who knows even bit about the reality in the eastern part of the city knows there is nothing new here. After all, the police’s violent, frightening presence in Palestinian areas is part of everyday life here.

I know this reality well. I know it from the rows of detained Palestinians who are made to stand against a wall, which I see at least twice a day in this city. I know it from the beatings during protests, from the Border Police jeeps that drive wildly in the Palestinian neighborhoods. Too many times have I almost been run over by one while crossing the street. I am guessing they must have thought I was Palestinian, and no police jeep will slow down to allow a Palestinian the right to cross in these areas.

Perhaps it is the fact that none of the Palestinian men present try to intervene or strike back as they watch the officer’s depraved behavior. They just stand there and take it. But the fact is that the officer could very easily claim that his life was in danger, meaning these men would quickly find themselves in court as the attackers. The statistics show that they are right.

Israeli police detain a participant taking part in a protest calling for coexistence and two states, held by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists near the village of Al–Khader, West Bank, January 15, 2016. (Flash90)
Israeli police detain a participant taking part in a protest calling for coexistence and two states, held by Israeli and Palestinian peace activists near the village of Al–Khader, West Bank, January 15, 2016. (Flash90)

Between 2011-2014, in more than 93 percent of cases in which citizens filed reports against the police, the Police Investigation Unit either refrained from opening an investigation or closed the case without taking action against the offending officers. Among the 11,282 complaints filed between 2011-2013, only 306 cases (2.7 percent) led to criminal trials, while only 374 (3.3 percent) led to disciplinary hearings. In 2014, only 2.5 percent of complaints turned into a trial, while three percent led to a disciplinary hearing. The rest of the cases were either closed due to lack of evidence or public interest — or were never investigated in the first place.

In 2016, 2,945 complaints were filed with the Police Investigation Unit; the unit either looked into or opened a criminal investigation into only half of them. In the end, only 110 of these complaints turned into criminal indictments, while 128 led to disciplinary hearings.

Israel Police is a body that has turned lying into a way of life. If there is anything one can take away from these horrifying images, it is this: internalize that the police’s default vis-a-vis Palestinians is, first of all, to lie. To use violence and then lie about it. The Israeli public has enough evidence to this effect, and if we are not idiots or evil, this is the basic lesson that any honest person must internalize from seeing these images. A violent police that endangers public safety.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

Newsletter banner