Five Border Police officers were charged on Thursday with armed robbery, assault, conspiracy, abuse, and other crimes, after allegedly repeatedly beating, humiliating, and stealing from Palestinian workers attempting to enter Israel illegally.
After the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Israel, Israeli authorities closed checkpoints for weeks at a time to prevent the spread of the virus. Facing hard times due to the economic collapse in the West Bank, Palestinians who work in Israel and who normally entered through Meitar Checkpoint near Hebron began entering illegally through a nearby gap in the security barrier, prosecutors said.
The indictment said the Border Police officers, one of whom was a squad commander, lay in wait next to the breach in the fence. When Palestinian workers entered illegally, the police officers allegedly beat them, sometimes until they bled, threatened them with their rifles, and shook them down for thousands of shekels — all while on duty and in uniform.
“The officers committed these crimes systematically and on many occasions,” prosecutor Adi Wallerman wrote in court filings.
Around 100,000 West Bank Palestinians are estimated to possess permits to work legally in Israel and in Israeli settlements. But tens of thousands also cross the border illegally through gaps in the security barrier. Rights groups allege that Israeli authorities are fully aware of the situation and choose to turn a blind eye.
“The officers exploited the fact that, as illegal aliens, the Palestinians were unlikely to turn to law enforcement and call for action against the defendants,” Wallenerman said.
Recounting one of several incidents, the indictment said: “The defendants forbade the workers from speaking and threatened to shoot them. When they neared the car, two of the defendants ordered them to lie on the floor before telling them to get up and empty the contents of their pockets. The officers threatened the workers again that if they did not do as ordered, the officers would shoot them all.”
In another alleged assault, two of the Border Police officers discovered that one of the Palestinians they had robbed did not have a permit to work in Israel. They reportedly forced the undocumented worker to kneel before kicking him repeatedly in the ribs, according to the indictment.
The indictment also describes an assault in which one of the defendants repeatedly hit a Palestinian worker with a wooden stick while shouting the Hebrew equivalent of the children’s counting ditty, “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.”
The squad commander, Amit Adri, denies the accusations.
“This all seems to have been blown out of proportion. My client denies that he robbed anyone. I hope very much that he will be released soon,” attorney Ido Porat, who represents Adri, told The Times of Israel.
Police condemned the alleged infractions, saying that the force would begin “the process of terminating their service” in parallel with the judicial process against the five.
“We take with the utmost seriousness the wrongful and atypical acts for which the officers have been charged,” police said in a statement.
The Border Police officers charged were first arrested last week. Prosecutors have asked the court to order that the remand of four of them be extended until the end of the proceedings against them.
“The defendants carried out their crimes while dressed in police uniforms and wielding police weaponry. They used their position and the faith placed in them as public servants to strike terror in their victims,” Wallenerman wrote.