Border guards charged with robbing Palestinians during traffic stops

Border guards charged with robbing Palestinians during traffic stops

One officer indicted for stealing from at least six groups of Palestinians, once while armed with a gun, making off with nearly NIS 20,000

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Border Police officers at a West Bank checkpoint, January 2017 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Illustrative: Border Police officers at a West Bank checkpoint, January 2017 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Two border guards were charged this week of robbing Palestinians during illegal searches of their cars in the central West Bank throughout the summer.

In total, the Border Police officers — Amjad Ashqar, of the Arab Israeli town of Eilabun, and Stefan Rashad, of the northern city of Haifa — were accused of stealing nearly NIS 20,000 ($5,600) from Palestinians over the course of two months. They were charged Wednesday in a Jerusalem District court.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Unit, similar to the American internal affairs, accused Ashqar of stealing from Palestinians on at least four separate occasions, including one case of armed robbery.

Rashad was indicted for one incident, in which he and Ashqar are suspected of robbing three groups of Palestinians at a single road stop. He is also alleged to have been present at another.

In each case, Ashqar was accused of threatening violence against the Palestinians, whom he pulled over “without cause or suspicion” of wrongdoing, according to the indictment.

The first robbery included in the charge sheet took place on July 3. Ashqar, wearing his full Border Police uniform and armed with a gun, pulled over a Palestinian driver near the Hizme checkpoint, north of Jerusalem.

Ashqar told the Palestinians in the car to empty their pockets and walk away so that he could “search their vehicle and belongings in order to find money, which he stole from them during the search,” according to the charge sheet.

Prosecutors said Ashqar stole NIS 1,350 ($378) — falsely claiming that he suspected it was counterfeit — and a smartphone from the cars’ occupants.

As he was carrying a gun at the time, Ashqar was charged with armed robbery, along with taking advantage of his position.

A month later, on August 7, Ashqar was alleged to have stolen NIS 7,100 ($1,990) in cash from a Palestinian man whose car he stopped near Adam Junction, outside Jerusalem.

On September 2, Ashqar was said to have pulled over another vehicle near Adam Junction, stealing NIS 7,000 ($1,960) in cash from the occupants, while Rashad watched, unaware of the theft.

During that encounter, the border guard also threatened one of the Palestinians in the car, telling him that “if he opened his mouth, [Ashqar] would run him over,” according to the charge sheet.

In the final case noted in the indictment, on September 3, Ashqar and Rashad were said to have worked together at a road stop in order to rob three different groups of Palestinians.

Shortly before 9 p.m., the border guards pulled over two cars that were traveling together near the Adam Junction.

From the first car, Ashqar stole NIS 300 ($84), and from the second, he took $450, which one of the occupants had in American bills, according to the indictment.

After the first car pulled away, the occupants realized they had been robbed, turned around in order to confront the border guard and also informed the second car of what had happened.

Before they reached him, Ashqar pulled over a third vehicle, a tractor-trailer, ordered the driver to empty his pockets and back away from the vehicle, and stole the man’s NIS 2,500 ($700), according to the charge sheet.

When the first two cars returned, the officers realized they had been found out and fled the scene. Rashad then demanded that Ashqar pay NIS 300 ($84), as they had agreed would be his fee for assisting in the scheme, according to the indictment.

In total, Ashqar was charged with six counts of robbery — one of them armed robbery — and six counts of taking advantage of his position.

Rashad was charged with three counts of robbery and three counts of taking advantage of his position for his role in the final heist on September 3.

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