Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein decided on Sunday to end the investigation against a police officer who was filmed beating IDF soldier Damas Pakada in April, on the grounds that it was the soldier who had provoked the clash, and also cleared the officer of having any racist motive for his actions.
The video clip sparked a wave of protests from members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community and revived long-dormant accusations of ongoing institutional racism .
Weinstein said the police officer who assaulted Pakada wouldn’t be charged and his case would be left in the hands of the Israel Police disciplinary board. The policeman was suspended from the force shortly after the April 27 incident.
Pakada’s lawyer said Weinstein’s decision to drop the charges was “bizarre” and “full of internal contradictions,” and vowed to appeal.
Weinstein’s decision came after both the state prosecutor and the Police Internal Investigations Department recommended that charges against the policeman be dropped.
The Justice Ministry said in a statement that the fight began after the uniformed soldier attacked the policeman.
“From the evidence in the case, including the film that recorded the incident, which was carefully reviewed, including in slow motion, it was apparent that after the policeman repeatedly asked the soldier to leave the premises because of the nearby suspicious object, and the soldier refused to do so and pushed the policeman, the policeman applied force to distance the soldier from the place. In response, the soldier punched the policeman and the policeman hit him in return,” the statement said.
The officer had ordered Pakada to turn back as security forces at the scene tried to determine if the suspicious object was a bomb or not.
However, the statement noted, the policeman did act contrary to regulations. It was, said the ministry, an example of a case where a policeman, confronted with a defiant citizen, had “lost his cool” when he could have resolved the issue in a more professional manner.
The statement also said there was no suspicion that the policeman had acted as he did for racist reasons or because of the soldier’s ethnicity.
Pakada’s lawyer criticized the attorney general’s decision Sunday evening. “This is a bizarre decision, full of internal contradictions that are not in line with the truth,” Eyal Abulafiya was quoted by the Walla news site as saying.
“The attorney general claims that Damas struck the cop first, and contradicts this later in his decision. Does the attorney general think the public is stupid or blind? Did he see a different video? It seems he tried to reach a solution that would appease the police,” he said.
Abulafiya vowed to appeal the decision and bring the cop — who has not been named — to justice.
Last month Pakada filed a lawsuit against the Israel Police “and its institutionalized racism and violence” at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s court and sued for NIS 390,000 ($100,000) in damages and compensation for legal fees.
The video clip showing Pakada being assaulted by the police officer in the coastal city of Bat Yam on April 27 triggered a wave of protests — some of which turned violent — by the Ethiopian Israeli community against police brutality and perceived discrimination of Israelis of Ethiopian descent.
On May 3, at a protest in the heart of Tel Aviv, at least 41 people were injured in an hours-long melee, which saw protesters hurl rocks at police and officers respond with stun grenades and water cannons.
Following that protest, Pakada met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, who apologized on behalf of the police for the attack against him and vowed to combat racism.