When Israeli Police Become Criminals, Who Protects Citizens?

Israeli Palestinian suspect publicly assaulted by police

In this blog, I focus less on purely internal Israeli politics and more on the bigger picture of Israeli democracy and relations with its Palestinian minority and the Occupation.  But Eyal Clyne has written a riveting, tremendously comprehensive report on a massive pattern of corruption and violence by the police against the entire Israeli public.  The culture of brutality exhibited by the Israeli police can only flourish in a nation obsessed, as Israel is, by security.  It can only flourish in a nation which had made a Faustian bargain with the police and security forces: protect us and we will allow you anything.

Israeli peace activists often argue quite persuasively that the incredibly high level of corruption and violence within Israeli society is due in large part to the corrupting influence of the Occupation.  In the cases you’ll read below, you’ll find that the violence exhibited by the police against its own fellow citizens appears to be learned in large part from the brutality officers see and practice during their own IDF service.  The toxic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I am not making the claim, nor does Eyal, that there are not police forces in virtually any and every country which commit grievous acts that remind us of what we’ll read here.  In fact, in the 1970s and 80s a number of U.S. cities in which I lived, including New York and Los Angeles had police forces which tended to run roughshod over any member of the public that was in its path.  The records of police brutality are long and legion in such places.   But thankfully, this systemic pattern of behavior has been largely rooted out leaving only individual examples that make headlines at regular intervals.

Israeli policing seems stuck somewhere back in the 1970s in U.S. terms.  Here are some of Eyal’s most egregious examples.  There are more links in this post than I’ve ever seen in any other and unfortunately for most of you, they are in Hebrew.  I admire that Eyal has offered evidence in the form of links for every claim he makes.  It makes his post even more powerful and damning.

He begins with the story of an Israeli man wanted by police in a domestic violence dispute.  His encounter with the police didn’t end well for him.  Israeli news coverage says that when the man tried to speed away in his vehicle a police officer, cowboy-like, jumped on the hood of his car and proceeded to shoot him numerous times all over his body:

Yesterday, a policeman shot and killed a suspect. The suspect was very suspicious. He was suspected of being obsessive, of harassment, and of resisting arrest. There are those who also say he was suspected of an attempted vehicular assault [on the police officer].  These turned out to be capital crimes. The late suspect was “lucky” not to be an Arab, because 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.

Israel’s police often does not live up to the directives of the law and tend to be rude, violent, flawed in terms of conduct, and characterized by a masterful resolve to show the citizenry just who is boss.

Israeli police violence: ‘Get on the bus before I break your bones.”

…In the Israel police there is a norm of violence and a lordly attitude; policemen take it upon themselves to act in a rude and criminal manner; and they enjoy nearly automatic backing from their commanders, who are also afflicted by this dysfunctional approach.

…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 facebeat, humiliate, and sexually harass youfine you for NIS 1,000, have you kicked out of the Civil Guardarrest 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 (herehere, and here), break your nosebeat the **** out of you and mock youthrow stonesopen fire for no reason, and harass women (while threatening them with arrests). On the road you must never tell them when they drive wildlypark illegally, and even when a 70-year old man dares challenge anything – he’ll catch flackOn soccer fields they bust your faces (see also herehereherehere, and in all items linked from there), and at home they’ll fine you for groaning too loudlyattack you with bare fistswrestle with you, and commit perjury when testifying about it, to cover up. On personal time they will be “role models of crime”: they’ll call prostitutes to the stationsteal money from suspectsplace explosive chargesgive 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.

Abuse of authority shows up at every stage of criminal proceedings, from the use of violence on the scene through illegal and false arrests, interrogations, and trial…The policemen abuse the laxness in the justice system to do anything they want to citizens, arresting people at their whimfalse arrests,unlawfully, including the arrest of children, as well as threatening arrest, which is all done violently and in contravention of the law (see also: herehere,hereherehereherehere, and here). While they’re at it they can also humiliate people: right-wing activists, a motorcycle thiefPalestinians, etc. Sometimes they also arrest and humiliate run-of-the-mill people due to a simple mistaken identity. Yet, some of these cases end up in death, like the policeman who killed a suspect, and another policeman who fatally shot a suspect, the policeman who cursed and fired his weapon, thus causing of death of a detainee, and the policeman who threw a metal bar at a moving motorcyclist.

…Israeli Judges are pretty easy to co-opt, 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 station, 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.

…The ‘romantic’ notion of investigation is entirely detached from true reality, where the police has spent years covering up justified complaintsfalsifying evidence, and adopting untrue testimonies when it felt easier. In other cases evidence “disappeared” (CDs herehard 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 whom are innocent) – and all these are stories just from the last few months.

…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 naïvely 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 ignores 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…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 more than 98%(!) of defendants are convicted.

…Legally speaking, the police are supposed to ensure your right to protest – but…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 disengagementagainst the siege of Gaza, of Hasidophobics in Bnei Brak, in 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 smithereens). 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: herehereand here), then they are settlers and right-wing activists (herehereherehereherehere, and here), or students (hereherehere). Or it could be motorcyclists protesting, or those evicted from their homes by the rich, and of course, left-wing activists and Arabs (herehere,hereherehereherehereherehereherehere). 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).

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, like robbers, policemen 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.

…Something is rotten in the kingdom of handcuffs. 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 largest criminal organization in the country. 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 our rights?