Border Police reinstates cop convicted of assaulting Palestinian woman at checkpoint

Minister Ben Gvir authorizes move, slams military prosecution and courts, arguing they don’t understand what it takes to fight terror

Oriane Ben Kalifa, a former Border Police officer accused of assaulting a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem's Old City, seen as she arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, May 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Oriane Ben Kalifa, a former Border Police officer accused of assaulting a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem's Old City, seen as she arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, May 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The commander of the Border Police announced Monday that an officer convicted last week of assaulting a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem would be reinstated.

Oriane Ben Kalifa — who was found guilty of assault for pulling the victim’s hijab from her hair, choking her and shaking her without cause, in footage aired by Channel 13 news last year — will be allowed to return for non-operational duty.

Ben Kalifa has not yet been sentenced, and Border Police Commander Amir Cohen told Channel 12 news Monday that he would review his decision if necessary.

Cohen’s decision was authorized by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who both hailed the move.

“Our fighters have my full backing. Contrary to what officials in the military prosecution and the judicial system apparently believe, when fighting terrorism the fight is not conducted under laboratory conditions — but under pressure and in a hostile environment,” the far-right Ben Gvir said.

Before becoming a lawmaker, Ben Gvir served as legal counsel for a Jewish woman who had accused Ben Kalifa of assaulting her near the Temple Mount.

Last week, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court found Ben Kalifa guilty of assault but acquitted her of obstructing justice, partly citing the sloppy manner in which the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) carried out the investigation.

Judge Joya Skappa-Shapiro found that in what began as a verbal altercation, Ben Kalifa “was quick to respond with force and shoved the complainant several times. There was no authority to use force and the shoves were not only unnecessary but also ignited a more serious violent incident.”

The victim, Hala Salim, suffered bruises to her neck in the resulting tussles, but the court said there was not enough evidence to show whether the marks were caused when Ben Kalifa was acting in an unauthorized manner or during moments when Salim resisted arrest and the officer was entitled to use force.

Skappa-Shapiro also criticized the PIID for its handling of the case, noting the lengthy time it took until witnesses from the victim’s family were summoned to give testimony, the way questioning was conducted, and the fact that no officers from the police special patrol unit were questioned even though some were seen in surveillance video witnessing the clash.

A video clip of Ben Kalifa yelling and manhandling Salim at the police station was aired by Channel 13 last year and shared on social media.

According to court papers, the November 4, 2021, incident happened when Ben Kalifa was stationed at a barrier checkpoint set up at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Salim, together with her brother, arrived at the barrier and asked to be let through, which Ben Kalifa refused to do.

Salim insisted that she needed to pass and at some point, Ben Kalifa pushed her back. Amid further shoving, a brawl developed and when Salim’s brother became involved, Ben Kalifa grabbed him by his neck and shirt. Salim then tried to intervene and a physical struggle developed between her and the officer. Ben Kalifa grabbed the woman’s hijab hair covering, pulled it off, grabbed her hair and also hit her in the head and knocked her to the floor. The court found that until that point, Ben Kalifa was using physical force without authority.

Supporters of former Israeli Border Police officer Oriane Ben Khalifa protest outside her court hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem, on May 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Kalifa then tried to lift Salim from the ground to arrest her, but Salim resisted. Other officers arrived and Salim was lifted to her feet, at which point Ben Kalifa pulled her to the nearby police station by her neck and hair. At the station, the officer roughly shoved Salim into a chair, choked her, shook her, and shouted at her, despite the suspect’s repeated requests that she stop. The court noted that from the moment Salim was raised off the ground outside she no longer resisted arrest and did not try to escape from the police station.

Only while the suspect was resisting arrest was the use of force against her authorized.

In a report of the incident, Ben Kalifa wrote that Salim had attacked her first, a claim the court deemed false. As a result, the woman was held overnight at the station on suspicion of assaulting an officer.

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