By Eyal Clyne | Translation: Dana Shunra
This week, a policeman shot and killed a suspect. The deceased was suspected of harassment, of resisting arrest and of simply being too obsessive. There are those who also say he was suspected of an attempted vehicular assault, and he discovered that these were capital crimes. The late suspect was lucky not to be an Arab. As a Jew, the circumstances of his death are at the very least questioned.
It also turns out that the suspect may have been obsessive, but the policeman also demonstrated some obsessiveness of his own. Rather than moving aside he clung to the engine hood, and shot the driver to death, both in the upper and lower parts of his body several times. Once was not enough. The Ynet news portal apparently saw this shooting as being justified, or at least understandable, as their headlines stated unequivocally that the event was “an attempted vehicular killing”, which contradicted both on-the-scene testimony and the assaulting policeman’s own history – and well before any investigation had occurred.
Ynet also played the story as a top headline, as though this conduct by the police was extraordinary, and should surprise the reader. What is actually surprising is the surprise itself. Israel’s police often does not live up to the directives of the law and tend to be rude, violent, flawed in terms of their conduct, and characterized by a masterful resolve to show the citizenry just who is boss.
The following selection of articles and reports is entirely arbitrary and not at all comprehensive. They were almost all gathered over the past year, and similar reports can easily be found. They demonstrate that in the Israeli police exists a norm of violence and a lordly attitude; that policemen take it upon themselves to act in a rude and criminal manner; and that they enjoy nearly automatic backing from their commanders, who are also afflicted by this dysfunctional approach. When reading the accumulating reports and watching the video clips, one understands that these are not exceptional cases or focal problems. The Police Internal Investigations Unit, with its full 80 staff members, can no longer withstand the nearly 30,000 policemen. A wide-ranging process of cleansing, training, careful follow-up, and compensation is needed – at all levels.
I. Cop’s Honor
(Your friendly neighborhood cop on the beat is as mythical as unicorns or fairies)
The famous slogan “To Serve and Protect” is okay for television drama series – it has nothing to do with life in Israel. You might want to ask just who serves whom and admit that what gets protected is first and foremost the honor of the policeman, not the rights of the citizens. No, the word “honor” does not mean fairness, integrity, and professionalism. It refers, instead, to the questionable “honor” that we meet in the phrase “honor killing.” It is the honor demanded by thugs in the ‘hood, except that it wears a uniform and badge. If you “offend” them (and they get offended easily; they’re quite sensitive) they could bite your lip right off your face, beat, humiliate, and sexually harass you, fine you for NIS 1,000, have you kicked out of the Civil Guard, arrest you, and spray you with gas. It’s as if you work for the policemen rather than the other way around.
That’s what it’s like with bullies. Just give them power, a weapon, or a certificate and they’ll harass everyone, just because they can. They’ll pour your beer out on the beach, harass passers-by on the street (here, here, and here), break your nose, beat the **** out of you and mock you, throw stones, open fire for no reason, and harass women (while threatening them with arrests). On the road you must never tell them when they drive wildly, park illegally, and even when a 70-year old man dares mention anything – he’ll catch flack. On soccer fields they bust your faces (see also here, here, here, here, and in all items linked from there), and at home they’ll fine you for groaning too loudly, attack you with bare fists, wrestle with you, and commit perjury when testifying about it, to cover up. In their own time they will be “role models of crime”: they’ll call prostitutes to the station, steal money from suspects, place explosive charges, give false testimony, and drop by in the middle of the night without a warrant, just to scare someone whom they see as calling for the oversight of police forces. One of the senior staffers in the Violence Prevention Department went so far in his quest to be a role model that he actually attacked a woman subordinate employee, working in his department.
II. Guilty until proven innocent
(What fun, making arrests)
Abuse of authority show up at every stage of criminal proceedings, from the use of violence on the scene through illegal and false arrests, interrogations, and trial. The police knows that the justice system is collapsing and that judges explicitly admit that they “don’t have time to release detainees”, and even ask to limit the right to appeal. The policemen abuse the laxness in the justice system to do anything they want to citizens, arresting people at their whim, false arrests, unlawfully, including the arrest of children, as well as threatening with arrests, which is all done violently and in contravention of the law (see also: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). While they’re at it they can also humiliate people: right wing activists, a motorcycle thief, Palestinians, etc. Sometimes they also arrest and humiliate run-of-the-mill people, due to a simple mistaken identity, and yet, some of these cases end up with death, like the policeman who killed a suspect, and another policeman who fatally shot a suspect, the policeman who cursed and fired his weapon, the causing of death of a detainee, and the policeman who threw a stick at a motorcyclist in motion.
According to the Police Orders, a policeman may use reasonable force when making an arrest, but only “if the suspect resists arrest or evades it.” So, for example, the fact that almost all policemen handcuff people when arresting them, even if there is no reason to do this, and that they almost always do that with their hands behind their back and not in front of them – even when there is no cause to do that – is abuse of authority which should be complained about and for which compensation should be sought by legal means. Theoretically.
Meantime, in the real world, this is a Hebrew news report of how an innocent 14 year old boy was arrested (by mistake):
The arrest gives the hooligan policemen enough time to violate the citizens’ rights as they please, with no-one watching, and at the end of the time legally allotted to them they are – theoretically – supposed to petition a judge for an extension of the arrest. In the actual world, however, it already happened that a judge has instructed that people be released from detention, and the police went on to ask another judge. Israeli Judges are pretty easy to agree, and for that reason innocent people (and that could be any of us) spend months in custody, for no reason.
Startin’ to get the picture? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. While under arrest the police are supposed to protect us, our property and our bodies. In practice, they act in violation of the law: they handcuff minors for hours, and handcuffed people are attacked while cuffed, inside the police stations, and are sprayed with mace. Policemen have also hit a suspect to the point of rendering him paralyzed, and police officers take part, as well, and slam the heads of bound detainees against the wall. In one of the false arrests, which was accompanied by a warrantless search, a young detainee was beaten for hours and raped. And insofar we haven’t even mentioned just what is waiting for us in the cells.
III. Honey, I sabotaged the investigation
A police Investigation may open by your complaint – that is, if you manage to file it. Some of your complaint flies will be closed, and you’ll never even know. In others, an investigation would start, and could lead to a trial. That’s how it’s supposed to work, in theory – but the romantic notion of investigation is entirely detached from the reality, where the police has spent years covering up justified complaints, falsifying evidence, and adopting untrue testimonies when it felt easier. In other cases evidence “disappeared” (CDs here, hard disks there, the end of the tape went missing here, and the entire tape was gone here). In the course of the investigation they also violate the right to counsel, the right to make a phone call, they steal money from suspects and violate the rights of detainees (many of which are innocent) – and all these are stories just from the last few months.
At court, police lies will be preferred to anything you say. Experience shows that in all cases where video evidence was presented, police claims of demonstrator violence are spurious, and in many case police violence is caught on film. Judges have had to rule several times that policemen were lying, and that rather than demonstrators attacking policemen, policemen had actually attacked demonstrators (In fact, in this interview, the video showing in the background demonstrates a policeman kicking a detainee). Of course, even in those cases the policemen were not charged.
In general, courts naively ascribe good faith to the people charged with upholding the law. The astonishing fact that 99%(!) of wiretaps requests are approved by the courts is indicative of this, as are the many cases when the court simply ignore clear evidence, at the request of the police. So if you think that after the investigation you will have a fair trial, you are wrong again. Despite the fact that policemen regularly lie to the courts, unless you can prove that the policemen are lying about the case being heard, you will be in dire straits, and the judges will prefer to believe their lies. (And sometimes, even proving that they’re lying is not enough). Finally, if you are actually charged with a crime, you have veritably no chance of being exonerated, since in Israel around 98%(!) of defendants are convicted.
IV. Nothing to protest here!
Legally speaking, the police is supposed to ensure your right to protests – but in fact, it will make an effort to maintain what the policemen-on-the-scene (and sometimes, the politicians) deem to be the “public order” they desire, even if their ideas are in direct contravention of our civil rights as enshrined in the law. More than anything else they want “quiet”, and they try and achieve it in several stages.
First they try to prevent the demonstrations, which is illegal (this happened in demonstrations against the disengagement, against the siege of Gaza, of hasidophobics in Bnei Brak, in the extreme right-wing rallies in Umm Al-Fahm, in front of the offices of the Islamic Movement, and in Silwan, and of the left in Sheikh Jarrah, and in the Occupied Territories). If the demonstrators have the resources to appeal to the Supreme Court, the demonstration will take place, and the next stage involves dispersing the demonstrators (to pieces). The policemen arrive on the scene all fired up, and only the identity of the people suffering their rage changes: sometimes these are ultra-orthodox Jews (see: here, here, and here), then they are settlers and right-wing activists (here, here, here, here, here , here, and here), or students (here, here, here). Or it could be motorcyclists protesting, or those evicted from their homes by the rich, and of course, left wing activists and Arabs (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). And there is still more! Here it is on Google Video, and here it is on YouTube. And when the bullies are above the law, it is hardly surprising that consequences are devastating: tear gas killed a toddler, police fire killed a little girl (and yet, the investigation was closed down).
In demonstrations and on soccer fields, say the numerous testimonies and evidence, there is a police norm of hiding name-tags and faces, to prevent identification. This extends to officers, as well. People do not hide their identity unless they have something to fear, and policemen might know that they do, in fact, have something to hide. It is only the unlawful anonymity which protects them from accountability, and they prepare for it because they know that this way, they can beat people up when they like.
The problem of police violence is especially acute in the Border Patrol and the Special Patrol Units, which are sent out, again and again, to demonstrations and soccer games to “do the job” (i.e. beat up innocent civilians, and while they’re at it, conduct unlawful arrests with great violence, and never be held accountable). Israeli cops forget that they are not here to create the law but rather to enforce it, and they persistently make up rules on the spot (such as prohibiting the flying of one flag or another, stating that there is no permit for a demonstration which does not actually require a permit, and so forth). This is how it happens that – although the right to demonstrate is a basic right in a democracy, and although the policemen are supposed to protect those rights – in practice they do everything they can to prevent them, and on the scene they become a source of unbridled violence that no-one can handle.
V. Political Bias
In many cases, the police also has a political bias against the left and Arabs. This stands out in demonstrations of right versus left, or in the police attitude toward nonviolent demonstration by Arabs. I have seen for myself several times how they embrace one side, and politely ask them to move over (and also ignore assaults by their favorite groups), while they use great and unjustified violence on the other. Their choice is not coincidental. The police has never had undercover attack units draw guns in the right-wing demonstrations against the disengagement, no matter how badly they violated public order. Nor did it ever shoot rubber bullets or tear gas on students or orthodox rioters. It does so in demonstrations by Arabs and left-wingers.
This is a message from the police central command to the policemen on the beat about which protests are less legitimate. This, though, does not scare off the demonstrators. Quite to the contrary, it is the well-founded feeling of discrimination and the sense of victimhood which revive the sense of injustice and of the mission, and encourage these demonstrators to struggle against the injustice.
The political bias does not necessarily come from above. It also derives from the influence of pressure groups that have established their great power (the security systems, settlers and their access to strategic and tactic meetings, in the trickling of “Jewifying” principles into all systems of the state). This is in contrast to other hated groups by policemen: ultra-orthodox Jews, left-wingers, and Arabs. Moreover, policemen of all ranks and levels feel that they have the right – and that it is even their calling and mission – to prefer mainstream and personal positions over their public obligation toward people who are different from them, and no one stops them. In fact, they are even encouraged to think this way.
This is especially true in demonstrations and searches of Arabs, who are not recruited to the force and are considered by many policemen to be permanent suspects. In this light, which allows privately-held positions to influence their work because their calling and mission are above the law, another a-political, professional enforcement agency dares give public support for the radical idea to “deny citizenship as a means of deterrence.” But since when is the secret police allowed to intervene in legislation? (Not to mention the fact that the whole line of thought is entirely spurious: If you want to contend with security issues go right a head, but don’t do it in lieu of human rights and civic rights but through those rights).
This discrimination is expressed in countless ways: the police unlawfully prevents left-wing demonstrations; it prohibits a demonstration, the Supreme Court permits it, the police ignored; evidence of high rank officers with Sheikh Jarrah settlers; Police criticized by the highest jurists; Police threatens citizens: don’t protest!; evidence on film: the police prevents a demonstration (and additional filmed evidence here); police throw stones at Arabs; a policeman and his friend open fire on Arabs for no reason; and the abusive interrogator becomes the official Police Consultant for Arab Affairs. And while some citizens suffer excessive enforcement (and here, and here), others enjoy a lack of enforcement (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and of movements which are supposed to have been outlawed). Indeed, a significant part of the violence related to the central status and cult of the collective violence organization and the ongoing
occupation of the Occupied Territories. The claim has been made for many years that the norms of a prolonged military occupation and the violence against Arabs are trickling into the regions inside the Green Line [1949 ceasefire borders], and we certainly do see that today.
VI. Back-up, Cover-up
Slowly but surely, citizens are losing faith in the police and the leadership – and for a good reason. They see how the commanding officers cover up the criminal behavior and the abuse of power and back the perpetrators. Neither the police nor the government show signs of willingness or ability to handle the matter. Senior figures even refuse to admit that there is a problem, and the media is unsuccessful in providing the broad range and the depth of context. Here is a helpful round-up of cover-ups and back-ups provided recently:
Cases against policemen involved in the evictions at Amuna were closed ; In the October riots, cases were closed with no justification; The case against the policemen who killed a demonstrator was closed; Indictments were withdrawn; The policeman who killed a burglar will “go back to work” ; The policeman intentionally aimed his weapon at a suspect and shot to kill – the Minister wants to have him pardoned; The Police Internal Investigations Unit closes cases without listening to complainants; Indictments for abuse and torment were canceled; The police is backing up policemen who falsified evidence; The District Commander is standing with the abusive investigator; The police gave a policeman who committed theft NIS 350K of assistance; The Inspector General said: “we’ll help the policeman [who killed a bound detainee]”; The policeman ran over, lied, and covered up evidence; The State Prosecutor closed another shooting case without interrogating the shooting policeman; We will never know if there had been an execution-style killing; Again, the policeman will not be penalized; An officer petitioned for the pardon of a policeman, in violation of the law. This list only scratches the surface.
In other words, and in contrast with the silly cliché, the police does not lack backing at all. As a matter of fact, Israeli policemen enjoy almost automatic backing of activity which is outright criminal. If each policeman needs an attorney assigned to him, it’s not because “his hands are tied” but rather, because he does not control them appropriately and carry out his duties lawfully. Policemen certainly do lack training in civil rights and customer service, and they do indeed receive low returns – but that is no excuse. It may not be the personal “fault” of any individual cop but rather, the responsibility of the higher echelons, but it is not our fault, either. We cannot continue ignoring this and covering it up, because while police bullying violates public trust, backing it up and denying it are actually the greater problem. If we do not handle police crime, especially during demonstrations and and in arrests, not only faith in the police but faith in the state itself will become unseated. Inasmuch as certain groups will be oppressed and unable to participate, to that extent the legitimacy and trust of the entire system will drop.
Knesset want to extend the legal authority of private security forces
Now, in light of the concerning trend of admiring power-agents and the drive to extend their powers, the Knesset has come up with its latest round of ill-thought legislation: providing inspectors and security guards with the authorities of the police. What folly is that? Who wants to permit a contracted mercenary working at $5/hr. to detain and arrest passers by? Who thinks it sounds reasonable for those gate-keepers, for whom the cafés collect a two shekel surcharge from every client, or the staff that inspects the register tape as you go out of the grocery store, to be authorized to employ “reasonable force”?
Really, what are they thinking? First give them the obligations that policemen have toward citizens, obligations that are not actually upheld as things stand. First improve the way the police treats citizens. First guarantee us a clean and efficient police force, which acts fairly to all, before you leap to give them untrained reinforcements. What is this obsession of enhancing a situation which is already dismal by adding security personnel to policeman?
At a time when the police has no sense of service and acts criminally itself, the police demands full and unlimited access to controlling our lives and bodies with violence, and constantly demands additional powers for itself. Some requests that came up recently are: limiting a defendant’s access to evidence, interrogation without documentation or videography
(along with the GSS), videotaping inside schools, prohibiting the publication of persons arrested (for two days at least), and even conviction without evidence (while continuing to hide the past).
Sure, it’s not only Israel. In line with the security hysteria, the West is falling all over itself to give law enforcement authorities every single thing they want. This is only regretted later. In the U.S., for example, the risk of being killed by a policeman is eight times greater than the risk of being killed of terror. In the UK, police studies show recently that more than 101 thousand citizens were harassed by the police following the “Terror Act”, but the rate of arrests in these searches is lower than half a percent, while the rate of arrests in searches under the regular law is 10%. In other words, the regular authority is 20 times more efficient. And what happens here? Only a month ago the State Advocacy reported that the police is ignoring the law, and the Knesset has been hurrying out to “reinforce” the police.
But who will reinforce the citizens?
VI. Citizenry Blues
Something is rotten in the kingdom of handcuffing. The stench is unbearable. The Israel police has become one of the greatest problems in the State of Israel. More and more of its personnel, who are supposed to be in charge of law enforcement, have become terrifying bullies, and instead of protecting and serving the citizens, they are becoming the force that threatens them. This is especially true when it comes to the courtesy they show, and most of all during arrests, interrogations, and demonstrations. They act with great violence and a sense of being the masters of the citizenry, and abuse their authority to lie to the courts. This will hit all of us, although we do not know when, because as far as they are concerned, the police are not here to serve the citizens but rather, for the citizens to serve them and for their mission, with no accountability. They attack with no second thoughts, they assume we are all criminals, while they themselves ignore the law. Rights? Due process? Freedom of expression? Serving the citizens? Not in Israel, apparently.
We, the people, have only to wonder: when the police are the criminals, who will protect the citizens?
Eyal Clyne is an independent Israeli blogger-researcher (among other things, and not as a source for income). His Hebrew blog is named after Ahad Ha’am’s inspiring essay “Truth from Eretz Israel”, and focuses on the conflict and other Israeli-political issues.