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Settlements in Focus - Vol. 2, Issue 13: "Settler Violence and Failures of Law Enforcement"

APN interviews Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization that released a report "A Semblance of Law - Law Enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank"


Settlements in Focus

Settler Violence and Failures of Law Enforcement (Vol. 2, Issue 13)
A publication of Americans for Peace Now

In June 2006, the Israeli NGO "Yesh Din" (Hebrew for"There is Law") published a report entitled, "A Semblance of Law - Law Enforcement upon Israeli Civilians in the West Bank." In this week's Settlements in Focus, APN interviews Yesh Din about the report.

APN: Who is Yesh Din and why did the organization decide to do this report now?

Yesh Din (YD): Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights is an Israeli human rights organization that was formed in March 2005 by a group of people looking for new ways for volunteers to bring about meaningful change in Israeli policies affecting human rights in the Occupied Territories. While Israeli human rights groups are normally divided along the "volunteer" vs. "professional" organizational lines, Yesh Din developed a unique approach: the organization is made up of, and led by, volunteers who carry out the field work and take all decisions, and these volunteers are assisted on a daily basis by experts where professional skills are needed (for example, in the legal, strategic and research fields, as well as press and government relations). Organized this way, Yesh Din combines the enthusiasm and commitment of volunteers with the talents and experience of highly skilled professionals.

As its first project, Yesh Din took it upon itself to deal with the lax law enforcement upon Israeli civilians - primarily settlers - who commit violent acts against Palestinians. Yesh Din has developed a four-year strategic plan to map the systemic problems in law enforcement's dealings with settler violence, looking at issues of investigations, prosecutions, and the courts. This summer's report, "A Semblance of Law" summarizes Yesh Din's first research stage and includes a number of recommendations for the IDF and Israel Police. It will also serve as a primary tool for our upcoming advocacy efforts on matters dealt with in this first report.

Yesh Din is now beginning implementation of a second, separate, project in which our volunteers will be monitoring issues of procedural rights in the Israeli military courts in the West Bank.

APN: What were the goals of this report?

YD: While the ineffectiveness of law enforcement upon settler violence has been documented in a number of reports by both NGOs and government bodies since the early 1980's, up until now there was no publicly-available research mapping the systemic failures in investigations that leave the vast majority of settler violence cases unresolved. The goal of A Semblance of Law was to use Yesh Din's unique methodology to understand the reasons behind the failure of law enforcement in the West Bank, looking closely at the first three stages of law enforcement during and following an offense: reaction of security forces personnel (primarily the Israeli Defense Forces) to offenses that were committed in their presence; the victims' ability to file complaints with the police; and the police investigation of these offenses and complaints.

Findings of the report led Yesh Din to make detailed recommendations to the various law enforcement bodies operating in the West Bank and are intended to serve as the basis for advocacy efforts towards implementation of these recommendations.

APN: What methodologies did Yesh Din use in researching and compiling this report?

YD: Yesh Din's specially-trained volunteers go daily out to the field to record testimonies from Palestinian victims of and eye-witnesses to settler violence. The volunteers are instructed to record as many testimonies to a particular event as possible, as well as to collect all supporting documents: medical records, photos of the scene, etc. Later on, the volunteers feed all the information collected to a dedicated internet-based database, where volunteer fact-checkers, assigned to examine and corroborate the information, cross-check the information against available documentation and testimonies from others witnesses.

Yesh Din does not reach its conclusions based solely on the testimonies of the victims and witnesses. Our volunteers accompany Palestinians to the police stations and the District Coordination Offices (DCOs) to file complaints, permitting first-hand documentation of the police response to the complainants (and easier access of the complainants to the police, as well as).

Most importantly, Yesh Din's Legal Advisor, Attorney Michael Sfard, is empowered by the complainants to follow-up on the police handling of their complaints. As such, Yesh Din is legally entitled to receive formal replies from the police on the fate of each investigation file it escorts, as well as the right to photocopy and examine those files that are closed with no steps taken against alleged perpetrators. Examination of each of those files allows Yesh Din to determine whether and what faults by the West Bank District Police (known as Samaria and Judea, or SJ, District) led to the closure of the files with no indictment.

All this information created the basis for the published research.

To complement the picture drawn by Yesh Din's own follow-up of investigation files, we have also asked the police for their own relevant statistics. Unfortunately the data passed to us was vary partial and in certain cases misleading. Still, our own statistics cover nearly a third of the annual police caseload, so valid conclusions can certainly be made from the information Yesh Din gathered using its own methodology.

APN: What were your major findings?

YD: The report's findings are based on Yesh Din's monitoring of 92 investigation files opened at the SJ District of the Israel Police, the vast majority in 2005 and 2006, and a smaller number in the three preceding years. From January to November 2005, 299 investigation files were opened by the SJ District relating to offenses committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians. Accordingly, the sample forming the basis of this report is extensive, and enables the drawing of valid conclusions regarding the overall response of the SJ District to this type of offense. Of those files in which the investigation was completed by the time the report was written, more than 90% of the complaints were closed without indictments being submitted. A breakdown of investigation results by offense investigated revealed the following:

  • 96% of the files on trespassing (including all the cases of harming trees) in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted [APN comment: in recent years, settlers have targeted Palestinian olive groves, interfering with the olive harvest and harming/destroying large numbers of trees. For a recent article about this problem, see:].

  • 100% of the property offenses in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.

  • 79% of the assault files in which the investigation was completed were closed without indictments being submitted.

  • About 5% of the complaints filed were lost and apparently were never investigated.

In addition to collecting data and producing statistical findings, we have closely studied 42 investigation files that were closed. In more than half of the cases - 60% by now -we have identified failures and faults in the investigation, for which the organization submitted appeals against the decision to close the files.

The main failures found are:

  • The complaints and testimonies were written in Hebrew rather than Arabic - the language in which they were given.

  • The police investigators rarely visited the scene of the offense and in cases where they did visit the scene, there were failures in documenting the scene.

  • In many cases testimony was not taken from key witnesses, including suspects and Palestinian and Israeli eyewitnesses of the incident.

  • Live identification lineups with Israeli civilian suspects were rarely conducted in the SJ District.

  • There were hardly any confrontations between complainants and suspects: of the investigation files examined by Yesh Din, such a confrontation was carried out by police investigators in only one file [APN note: such "confrontations" are common practice in Israeli law enforcement].

  • In none of the files examined by Yesh Din in which the suspects made alibi claims were the claims checked before the investigation file was closed.

  • The contents of about one-third of the investigation files were very thin and indicated a hasty closure of the file, shortly after the complaint was received.

  • In several cases it was decided to close an investigation file even though the material that accumulated in the file apparently indicated sufficient evidence for indicting suspects.

  • An examination of files that were closed for reasons of "No Criminal Culpability" raised doubts as to the decision to close those files, considering they were subject to insufficient investigations.

APN: Did you come across any specific trends?

YD: Up until now, there were no definitive statistics on the scope of settler violence against Palestinian civilians and property. In an effort to generate such statistics, we gathered all reports on such events submitted to several human rights and other organizations in 2005. We were not surprised to learn that the phenomenon of settler violence is widespread year-round and throughout the West Bank. The majority of incidents were reported from the villages around Nablus, where a number of extreme settlements and outposts are located, and from the town of Hebron and South Mt. Hebron area.

Another trend we noticed was the sharp rise in the number of events in August 2005 - right before and during implementation of the Disengagement plan: 87 separate incidents reported in August, compared with 38 incidents in July or 28 in September.

APN: Based on your findings in this report, what were Yesh Din's major recommendations?

YD: We have made a number of recommendations aimed at improving law enforcement authorities' response to settler violence and at tightening supervision upon them. Our recommendations to the IDF include, among others, that:

  • it will define for its soldiers who serve in the West Bank the protection of the Palestinian civilians and their property against the violence of Israeli civilians as a permanent and key mission;

  • the IDF's regional divisions in the West Bank will define in their standing orders assistance to SJ District investigations as a permanent and key mission; and

  • the IDF must regularly and frequently allocate forces for patrols in known areas of friction between settlers and Palestinians, with the purpose of ensuring the security of Palestinian civilians.

Recommendations regarding the SJ District investigations include:

  • greater supervision of investigations, to ensure the completion of investigations about Israeli civilians assaulting Palestinians and their property;

  • files that are closed without prosecution should be transferred to the audit of a District Attorney office; and

  • investigation of files of assault and other serious offenses should be accompanied by a lawyer from a District Attorney office.

APN: What sort of impact do you expect these recommendations will have? Are there any preliminary indications that the report has had an impact on the ground thus far?

YD: The report was published some six weeks ago and obviously it is too early to notice significant improvements on the ground; we will have a better idea when we examine police professional conduct in those investigations that are not yet complete, and when we determine if the ratio of indictments improved. We presented our findings ahead of publication to the most senior officials in the Defense, Public Security and Justice Ministries and we know our recommendations are being discussed in ministerial-level meetings.

We intend to follow up on these discussions and to bring about an implementation of our recommendations. Yesh Din was formed with the intention of becoming an effective, policy-changing, organization and our work in this respect is only beginning following the publication of this report.

In addition, the report has generated a great deal of press coverage in Israel, including articles in every major Israel paper.


APN: Does Yesh Din plan any follow up actions or reports?

YD: The IDF and police conduct on the issue of settler violence is only a part the problem. Responsibility for the lax law enforcement also lies with Israeli prosecution authorities and the courts. These two bodies are on Yesh Din's research agenda for the coming two years, in parallel to our advocacy activity following our first report's findings, as well as our ongoing work in recording victims' testimonies and following up on investigations as we have done so far.

Produced by Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now,
in cooperation with Lior Yavne, Yesh Din