Ombudsman blasts Israel’s West Bank police for neglect of Palestinians

Ombudsman blasts Israel’s West Bank police for neglect of Palestinians

State comptroller says Judea and Samaria District probe shootings of Palestinians at ‘extremely slow pace’; report also notes failure to investigate terror attacks against settlers

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Moshe Barkat (R), commander of the Israel Police's Judea and Samaria District visits Efrat, on September 18, 2016 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Moshe Barkat (R), commander of the Israel Police's Judea and Samaria District visits Efrat, on September 18, 2016 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira lambasted the conduct of the Israel Police’s West Bank division in his annual report published Wednesday, saying law enforcement was failing to properly probe crimes against Palestinians. The damning report also accused the force of failing to learn lessons from the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens that took place under their jurisdiction.

From his nine-month examination of the Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria District, Shapira found that the division was investigating “in a particularly slow manner” incidents in which Palestinians were shot by Border Police officers.

Shapira noted that of the 27 shooting investigation files being handled by the Judea and Samaria District in March 2016, two of them were cases that took place in 2012, four were from 2013, six were from 2014 and nine were from 2015.

State comptroller Yosef Shapira presents a report related to the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2014, to Israel’s Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein (UNSEEN), on March 14, 2018 at the Knesset in Jerusalem. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

“This seriously harms the handling of complaints and events that require rapid, efficient and professional investigation. It does not comply with international law and even undermines the public’s trust in law enforcement authorities,” the comptroller wrote.

The ombudsman also found fault in the West Bank division’s handling of Palestinian complaints of land theft, namely the establishment of illegal outpost by Israeli settlers.

From January 2014 to April 2016, 48 complaints were submitted to the Judea and Samaria District regarding the forgery of land purchase documents, but by January 2016, the vast majority of those probes remained uncompleted, Shapira wrote.

Efrat mayor Oded Revivi (L) and Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria District commander Moshe Barkat (C), in Efrat on September 18, 2016. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The report also noted neglect of Jewish settlers’ needs through lax policing.

While the comptroller recognized the difficult nature of the often terror-related crime that unfolds in the West Bank, he nonetheless faulted the Judea and Samaria District for failure to properly coordinate with other law enforcement bodies including the IDF, Border Police and the Shin Bet security services.

This issue was most relevant in dealing with the June 2014 kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer who inadvertently hitched a ride from a bus stop at the Alon Shvut Junction in Gush Etzion with terrorists from a Hamas cell.

Their fate was unknown for almost three weeks — until their bodies were found and it emerged that they had been killed mere hours after the kidnapping.

Following the kidnapping, Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank in an attempt to crack down on Hamas and to track down the three. It was only 18 days later that their remains were found buried in a field north of Hebron, not far from where they had been abducted.

According to Shapira, “the police did not implement the lessons learned from the kidnapping and murder of the three boys.”

The comptroller highlighted the phone call made by one of the teens to the police emergency hotline upon realizing — too late — that the car that had picked them up was not an innocent Israeli vehicle.

From left to right: Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, three Israeli teenagers who were seized and kiled by Palestinians on June 12, 2014 (photo credit: IDF/AP)

He whispered into the phone “We’ve been kidnapped,” and the call was transferred immediately to a senior officer, who continued to ask questions but received no reply.

The call lasted for 2:09 minutes and was then cut off. The officer called the number eight more times, but received three busy signals and reached voicemail five times.

Reviewing the incident, Shapira wrote that the phone conversation had been treated by police as a “harassment call that was not handled properly.” Several top officers were dismissed from their posts following the incident.

But years after their dismissal, police have failed to implement a system to classify the severity of such calls so that they can be efficiently passed up the chain of command, the report said.

Moreover, the comptroller pointed out that despite the previous recommendations to add 20 staff members to the Judea and Samaria District’s central headquarters in order to deal with such calls, just 11 had been added to date and the majority were not properly trained to handle these type of incidents.

In a lengthy statement responding to Wednesday’s report, the Judea and Samaria District dismissed or neglected to address many of the criticisms raised by Shapira.

The West Bank police division said that it is in the midst of a massive overhaul of its central headquarters, and that all new staff are now properly trained.

Moshe Barkat (R), commander of the Israel Police’s Judea and Samaria District visits Efrat, on September 18, 2016 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Regarding the failure to properly investigate shootings of Palestinians by Border Police officers, the Judea and Samaria District insisted that probing such cases should not have been their responsibility and that they didn’t have the budget for it.

Ostensibly recognizing the systematic failures on the issue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered in November 2017 to transfer responsibility for such investigations to the military police, the police statement said.

Capping off its response, the West Bank police division said it “welcomes the state comptroller’s report, will adopt its conclusions, and work to implement the issues raised in it.”

However, the police district said that many of the recommendations raised in the report had already been adopted by police even before the document was published Monday.

For its part, the Yesh Din rights groups said in a statement that the report proves that “Israeli law enforcement officials fail to take seriously their duty to protect Palestinian residents of the West Bank.”

“The result of this ongoing system failure is the granting of immunity to Israeli civilians and security forces who harm Palestinians,” the NGO added.

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