Court releases Palestinian suspect that cops allegedly branded with Star of David

Alleged drug dealer was unduly detained and suffered severe violence, judge says about the unusual move; suspect to stay under house arrest

A photo released by police on August 19, 2023, shows cut marks on a Palestinian detainee's face that the force alleges was caused by an officers boot. A lawyer for the suspect alleges police branded him with a Star of David. (Israel Police)
A photo released by police on August 19, 2023, shows cut marks on a Palestinian detainee's face that the force alleges was caused by an officers boot. A lawyer for the suspect alleges police branded him with a Star of David. (Israel Police)

A Jerusalem Magistrate Court’s judge ordered the release to house arrest of a Palestinian suspect who received bruises similar in shape to a Star of David on his face last week.

Judge Adi Bar Tal on Sunday ordered the measure, which is unusual for a suspected drug dealer who police say had resisted arrest, following an outcry over the handling of the suspect, 22-year-old Arwah Sheikh Ali from the Shuafat area in East Jerusalem.

The uproar followed a picture that emerged of bruises that looked like of the bottom part of a Star of David on the left cheek of Sheikh Ali. His lawyer, who said his client denies all charges, said that police tortured the 22-year-old and branded his face with a Star of David.

Police said the bruises came from arresting officers’ items of clothing, and suggested it happened when an officer pressed the laced-up part of their boot against the suspect’s face while they subdued him.

“It has emerged that the arrest featured severe violence,” Bar Tal said. She also criticized the detainment of Sheikh Ali in a police station over the weekend instead of a holding facility. Bar Tal noted that Sheikh Ali had not been allowed to be examined by a physician despite an Saturday ruling mandating this.

On Saturday, another judge referred the case to the Police Internal Investigations Department and said that police have “no reasonable explanation” for how the bruises appeared.

That judge, Amir Shaked, noted Saturday that police have no explanation for why the bodycams were not working on all 16 officers who had allegedly participated in the arrest of the man for suspected drug offenses in Shuafat in East Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Media reported on the case after images spread online showing triangular shapes, similar to the bottom portion of a Star of David, under the suspect’s left eye. His lawyer said the suspect was tortured by police, who branded him with a Star of David.

A police spokesperson responded to the allegations by saying the officers used “reasonable force” to detain the suspect and that the bruise was likely caused by “an article of clothing of one of the officers.” The suspect was restrained at his home while police were conducting a warranted search, where they say they encountered a commercial quantity of illegal substances, a spokesperson said. Accompanying the police’s statement was a photo of the triangular patterns of laces on an officer’s boot, implying they caused the bruise when they were pressed against the suspect’s face.

The explanation did not satisfy thousands of Israelis, including prominent protest activists, who commented on it on social networks. Some participants in weekly protests against the government on Saturday were documented wearing a Star of David made of lipstick on their cheeks.

One user of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, posted an image of a pillow with a Star of David embroidery, with a satirical text saying police claim they caused the marks while the detainee was napping in his prison cell.

A photo released by police on August 19, 2023, shows the boot of a police officer that allegedly caused cut marks on Palestinian detainee’s face. A lawyer for the suspect alleges police branded him with a Star of David. (Israel Police)

Shikma Bressler, a leader of the protest movement against the judicial overhaul, referenced the incident in her speech at a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night, calling the alleged abuse a sign of the rise of the ideology of Mair Kahane, the late ultranationalist rabbi who founded the far-right Kach movement, which was eventually branded a terror organization.

“We are witnessing all the dams breaking,” she said. “Kahanists wearing police uniforms, 16 of them, a minority within the force, turning off or not turning on the bodycams and branding, allegedly, a Star of David on the cheek of a Palestinian detainee. Jews branding a Star of David on the face of a detainee. A disgrace.”

In her speech, Bressler claimed that the alleged brutality on display in the incident involving the Palestinian was connected to other instances of alleged brutality by police against protesters against the overhaul, a plan led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for transferring some of the judiciary’s powers to the legislative and executive branches.

Prof. Shikma Bressler speaks during a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul plans, in Tel Aviv, on August 12, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shir Nosatzki, the director of an Israeli initiative seeking to promote Jewish-Arab political partnership, called the officers “Nazis. Nazis wearing uniforms of the State of Israel” on X.

Josh Breiner, a reporter for Haaretz, wrote on X that the triangle on the face of the suspect seems to match the pattern of the shoelaces in the photos provided by police, but not a middle-section line in the scar on his face.

“One thing is clear: A serious, violent incident like this needs to be investigated swiftly,” he wrote.

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