What good is an occupation police force?

The Judea and Samaria Police District continues to not do its job. Is it time to dismantle the whole operation?

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Last week, Yesh Din Attorneys Assnat Bartor and Noa Amrami submitted an unusual appeal. It refers to not one, but eight cases. The reason: since investigators couldn’t get the required paperwork from the Civil Administration,  Judea and Samaria (West Bank) District Police (SJPD) officers decided that they didn’t feel like working and recommended the cases be closed. In each case.

The cases come from two batches of closed police investigation files. The first refers to the acts of R, a well-known individual from the settlement of Revava. The latter allowed himself to trespassing on land belonging to two Palestinians, Aaref al-Sufi and Aaisha Qassam, and carry out construction work there, including paving a road. In the first incident, which took place on March 20, 2008, the police closed the case, citing the “perpetrator unknown clause” – despite the fact that R admitted to committing the crime in his statement to the police. Another reason cited by the police for closing the case is that it asked the legal advisor to the West Bank for his opinion regarding ownership of the land in question. Since the police did not receive a reply, a decision was made to close the case.

Errr, what? Run that by me again? A case is closed when it either reaches a dead end or is sent to prosecution. If no one replied to your letter, send another one. If you still get no answer, pick up the phone. Still no answer? Lay siege to the office of the legal advisor until he has no choice but to answer. What is the meaning of this negligence?

And this is the same decision made by the police in four other cases in which R or workers he hired were involved. The decision to close the cases was made despite agreement over the fact that the land invasion carried out by R had been illegal – even though the Custodian of Absentee and Government Property in the West Bank ruled that the uprooting of olive trees on Qassam’s land had been a result of construction work carried out by R, and in spite of the fact that construction without a permit is a crime regardless of the identity of the land’s owner. Nonetheless, the police closed the cases because it did not obtain the information it asked for.

The second batch of cases comes from one the most infamous illegal outposts, Havat Gilad. Two of the complaints were filed after settlers in the outpost placed mobile homes on land belonging to Ibrahim Ghanem and Ghanem Abu Adida. These complaints were closed by police, once more, because they did not receive the information they asked for from the legal advisor. In this case, though, the police did work some wonders – even by the rather low standards of the SJDP.

On July 15, 2010, police legal superintendent Gil Deshe recommended to the Yesh Din’s attorneys that “the issue be treated in the civil courts and by administrative process vis-a-vis the Civil Administration and the legal advisor” of the Samaria and Judea Region. He said that he saw no need in keeping the criminal cases open. That is, the legal representative of the police reached the conclusion that there is no point in bothering the SJDP with reports about criminal activities.

A criminal trespassed onto your land? Put a mobile home on it? Cut off your trees and paved a road in their place? Enough with your whining. Kindly go to your treasure chest, hire a lawyer and file a civil suit against the felon with your hard-earned money. And please, stop wasting the police’s time. It has better things to do than serve the public.

It should be noted that in a report [Hebrew] published in the summer of 2013, the State Comptroller found that the police routinely refuse to deal with construction offenses in the West Bank, making a fascinating claim that the treatment of such offenses is handled by the local municipality and the Interior Ministry. That is, 40-plus years after it was invited by the IDF to operate in the West Bank, the police is still unclear about its own status.

Is the meaning of Superintendent Deshe’s recommendation that there is no longer any need for the SJDP, and that it may be dismantled? One assumes this is not what he meant. But when the emblem of the SJDP is negligence at best and turning a blind eye at worst, perhaps we should give serious consideration to the idea. After all, it’s not like you can see the difference with the naked eye.

Read more:
‘Israel must prosecute West Bank land thieves’

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.