Israeli Justice Ministry probe into police killing of Palestinian teen so flawed it can't even be called 'investigation'

Adalah appeals Police Investigations Department decision to close probe into killing of 16-year-old Mu’taz Ewisat; PID failed to undertake most basic of investigative steps.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel on 10 August 2017 appealed a decision made by the Israeli Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department (PID) to close its probe of the police shooting death of 16-year-old Mu’taz Ewisat.


Ewisat, a resident of the Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukaber, was killed by Israeli Border Police on 17 October 2015 in the Jewish settlement of Armon HaNatziv in East Jerusalem. Police claim they shot Ewisat after he attempted to stab one of the officers.



Adalah filed its initial demand for an investigation of Ewisat's killing on 4 November 2015.


In the appeal, Adalah Attorney Fady Khoury argued that the PID investigation was riddled with serious omissions:


"It is impossible to call PID's actions in this case an 'investigation.' The only thing PID investigators did in this case prior to its shelving was to read statements made by police officers transcribed by fellow officers. Basing the closure of an investigation into the use of fatal gunfire on the reading of statements by officers – who were never asked essential questions about the shooting by either their police colleagues … or by PID investigators who didn't question the officers at all before making their decision – is indicative of the institutional bias, the lack of objectivity, and the passivity characterizing PID."


Fundamental flaws in investigation


Adalah detailed in its appeal a series of fundamental flaws in the PID investigation:


Lack of physical findings – weapon: The PID file into the killing of Ewisat does not  include any physical findings from the scene and has no evidence that supports the police officers' statements. The file contains no evidence of a knife, as officers’ claimed, let alone a knife bearing the fingerprints of the deceased.


Opposition to/refusal to autopsy Ewisat’s body: Rather than conducting an immediate autopsy of Ewisat in order to aid in clarifying and advancing the investigation into the legality of the shooting, police assumed the shooting was legal. PID, which has the legal authority to order an immediate autopsy, refused to do so.


Missing operations report: The file does not contain an operations report outlining the sequence of events in an orderly manner clarifying reasons that might justify the deadly shooting. Adalah's appeal stresses that police are obligated to ensure real-time documentation of serious incidents such as this.


Refusal to question officers: Basic investigative actions such as the questioning of involved officers were not conducted. Questioning conducted by fellow officers following the incident was only partial in scope and failed to include central issues intended to aid in determining the legality of a shooting. Police failed to record testimony and document the scene of the incident and PID, in turn, failed to correct this flaw in the investigation.


There also exists serious suspicion that officers involved in the killing violated the police's  open-fire regulations, Attorney Khoury contended in the appeal:


"Even if we accept the officers' version according to which the deceased posed a danger to them, the circumstances of the incident – including the manner in which the shooting was carried out and the angle and scope of the shooting – indicate that the gunfire aimed at the deceased was intensive and, at the very least, there exists suspicion that requires serious clarification that the shooting was in violation of the open-fire regulations and therefore constitutes a violation of the law."


Police refused to release body


Israeli police also refused to release Ewisat’s body to his family, a move that was in violation of the law as they lacked the legal authority to do so. Following a Supreme Court petition by Adalah, the police eventually released Ewisat’s body about eight months after he was killed.


UN: Excessive force and extra-judicial killings


The UN Committee Against Torture, in its Concluding Observations on Israel (2016) raised concerns (para. 32) regarding the "excessive use of force, including lethal force, by [Israeli] security forces," and noted statements by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that, "some of these responses strongly suggest unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions."


The committee further expressed "concern at reports that accountability for instances of excessive use of force is rare."


The committee called on Israel to: “[carry] out an independent review and any necessary revisions of rules of engagement or regulations on opening fire to ensure their consistency with international law” and to ensure that "all instances and allegations of excessive use of force are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent body, that alleged perpetrators are duly prosecuted and, if found guilty, adequately sanctioned."


CLICK HERE to read Adalah's petition [Hebrew]



Adalah Position Paper: Extra-judicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli police and security forces and the failure to investigate these events (Updated 14 March 2017)