Ex-Border Police officer convicted of assaulting East Jerusalem woman at checkpoint

Court finds Oriane Ben Kalifa used unauthorized force in altercation with Hala Salim, pulling her hair and shaking her; defendant acquitted of obstructing justice

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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)

A former Border Police officer was convicted Tuesday of assaulting an East Jerusalem woman when she was still in the service, by pulling the victim’s hijab from her hair, choking her, and shaking her without cause.

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

The far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is in charge of police, slammed the judge’s ruling, saying the verdict was “not final” and that he would contact police to see what could be done on behalf of Ben Kalifa.

During the hearing a crowd gathered outside the courthouse in support of the former officer, among them Likud MK Nissim Vaturi.

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.

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.

An indictment was filed against Ben Kalifa in January 2022.

“The accused is a young woman with conventional ambitions, who devoted a significant part of her adult life to the service of the state and its citizens, and who failed and deviated from the line of duty during an operational activity under difficult conditions and in a flashpoint area. Although these points do not absolve her of guilt, they will be considered and reflected in the context of the sentence,” the judge said on Thursday.

Supporters of former Israeli police border officer Oriane Ben Kalifa outside the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, on May 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Eyal Besserglick, an attorney representing Ben Kalifa, said that he would study the decision with a view to filing an appeal after sentencing.

“There is no doubt that the evidence cries out for an acquittal and that is how we will act,” he said.

Minister Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, criticized the judge and noted that in a previous case, she had acquitted a police officer who punched an ultra-Orthodox boy in Jerusalem because he had acted in the heat of the moment.

“In any case, as far as I am concerned, the verdict, which is not final and conclusive, is not the final word in the officer’s service in the police, certainly when she was acquitted of the serious offenses,” said Ben Gvir, a lawyer by training who before entering politics made a career of defending Jewish attackers of Palestinians.

“I will study the verdict, I will ask the [police] commissioner and the head of the Border Police to formulate their position and then a final decision will be made regarding the officer,” he said.

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