Policeman indicted for beating, breaking knee of Arab protester in Haifa

Charges filed against Lior Hatam for assaulting rights activist Jafar Farah at a pro-Gaza rally last year, after police initially rejected violence claims

Arab Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah, who alleges a police officer broke his knee after he was arrested. (Screen capture: Twitter)
Arab Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah, who alleges a police officer broke his knee after he was arrested. (Screen capture: Twitter)

A policeman was indicted Sunday by the Police Internal Investigations Department for beating and breaking the knee of Arab Israeli rights campaigner Jafar Farah after his arrest at a Haifa protest last year.

Farah was arrested with 20 other people during a Gaza Strip solidarity rally in Haifa in May 2018, in the wake of which several accusations of brutality were leveled against police. Farah claimed the police officer kicked his leg, shattering his knee, while he was held in a detention facility.

The indictment was filed at the Haifa Magistrate’s Court against officer Lior Hatam, 34, accusing him of assaulting Farah as well as seven other protesters, PIID said in a statement.

According to the charge sheet, Hatam kicked Farah at the police station while the latter was sitting on the floor, handcuffed. He then picked Farah up and again pushed him over, causing a fracture in his knee. After that, he dragged Farah to the restroom and searched him, demanding — unlawfully — that he undress for a strip search.

Farah was denied medical care until the following morning.

Arab Israeli NGO worker Jafar Farah, who alleges a police officer broke his knee after he was arrested, in court on May 20, 2018. (Hadashot screenshot)

Hatam has been on mandatory leave since the incident.

After the incident, police initially insisted that all of the arrests were “carried out lawfully and in accordance with procedures.” They said the protests had included stone throwing at officers, property damage, attempts to block roads and disturbing the public order.

The officer denied he used any physical force against Farah. Other police officers who were with Farah while he was in custody also gave testimony maintaining that the activist was not injured by the accused officer, and suggesting instead that he had hurt his leg during the scuffles at the demonstration, Haaretz reported at the time.

But footage of Farah’s arrest showed him being led away in handcuffs and walking on his own.

In October, PIID announced its intention to press charges against him pending a hearing.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Then-Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich appeared dismissive of Farah’s accusations in the days following the incident, acknowledging that “the claims need to be checked” but adding that “every lawbreaker has claims against police officers” and calling the protest “violent and illegitimate.”

The case also brought about some diplomatic tensions, as a European Union statement calling for a probe of Farah’s claims elicited angry responses from Israeli ministers.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, in charge of police, said the bloc should not “get involved in internal Israeli matters. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, doesn’t need any moral warning calls from a biased and obsessive entity like the European Union.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz went even further, saying the EU could “go to a thousand, thousand hells” for asking Israel to probe the incident. “It’s the height of insolence, the height of hypocrisy.”

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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