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Special Edition, Volume 17, September 2005

Adalah's Correspondence with the Police Investigation Unit (Mahash) and the Attorney General since October 2000, Concerning the Investigation of the Killing of Arab Citizens of Israel by Israeli Police Officers

October 2000 — Or Commission

On 18 October 2000, Adalah wrote to the Attorney General, demanding that he issue an order to Mahash to launch an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Arab citizens of Israel during the protest demonstrations of October 2000. Adalah also demanded that the Attorney General issue an order to investigate the police's policy of opening fire on Arab demonstrators.

Adalah claimed that opening fire on Arab demonstrators contravenes directives which obligate the police in this regard, and which prohibit the police and security forces from opening fire on demonstrators, except in the case of immediate danger to the lives of police officers or citizens. Adalah added that by not employing alternative methods of breaking up demonstrations, the police are violating the guidelines on opening fire. Adalah also argued that the hundreds of citizens whom were fired upon were hit in the upper parts of their bodies, proving that the police did not adhere to even the minimum legal criteria which govern opening fire.

Adalah's letter also discussed the brutal conduct of the police towards Arab demonstrators, who posed no danger to the lives of the police officers, or anyone else. Adalah learned of several exemplary incidents of such conduct, including the beating of two sisters from Nazareth, Khoula and Nasreen Khouri, on 1 October 2000. A further example is the case of Dr. A'mer Ramadan and his wife Marleen Ramadan. The two were showered with live rounds whilst sitting in their car after leaving their house to visit relatives in Nazareth, leaving Mrs. Ramadan seriously wounded. Furthermore, although Mr. Ramadan pleaded with the police officers to call for an ambulance, the latter left the scene without aiding the couple.

However, police violence is not restricted to Arab citizens of Israel participating in demonstrations; police officers also use violence against Arab detainees. Adalah emphasized that the use of violence during arrests is considered a criminal offence, detailing two cases of violent conduct by the Israeli police against Arab detainees. Adalah added that the charges made against those detained during the demonstrations contained illogical articles, which were unrelated to criminal law, and which were evidence, if anything, of a policy of revenge against Arab citizens.

The Attorney General replied on 2 November 2000, maintaining that investigations into police violence are the responsibility of Mahash, whose role is to gather evidence, although so far few complaints have been submitted to the unit, and that those filing complaints have been uncooperative. The Attorney General suggested that Adalah should send their evidence directly to Mahash, for them to deal with it. As for the policy of opening fire, the Attorney General claimed that the Official Commission of Inquiry into the October 2000 Events (Or Commission), which was established by the government on 8 November 2000, would look into this matter.

On 1 November 2000, Adalah wrote to Mahash demanding that they open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing on 8 October 2000 of Mr. Wissam Yazbak, and into the failure of the police to gather evidence about his death. When doctors at the Rambam hospital pronounced Mr. Yazbak dead, the uncle of the deceased, Dr. Mahmoud Yazbak, together with the General Director of Adalah, attorney Hassan Jabareen, contacted the police, asking them to come to the hospital to gather evidence, such as bullets. However, the police did not respond to their request. Adalah made clear attorney Jabareen's willingness to provide Mahash with the information he had.

In Mahash's response of 23 November 2000, the Director of Mahash alleged that a preliminary examination indicated that Mr. Yazbak was not killed by police fire, and that the investigation into his death had been transferred to the police. He added that anyone in possession of evidence should hand it to the police, and that, were it subsequently to become apparent that the police were implicated in his death, the investigation would be transferred back to Mahash.

On 5 November 2000, Adalah wrote to the Attorney General and to the Director of Mahash, clearly stating that it is Mahash's legal duty to investigate crimes committed by the police. Adalah once again requested that Mahash should open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of the demonstrators, as well as the illegal actions of police officers regarding opening fire on and using violence against demonstrators.

On 13 November 2000, the Director of Mahash claimed to be 'astonished' by Adalah's letter, since attorney Jabareen had promised to provide Mahash with the information in Adalah's possession, but had not done so. The Director of Mahash requested, in spite of his surprise, that Adalah and the plaintiffs give him their evidence to enable him to conduct the investigation.

Adalah responded to this letter on 28 November 2000, confirming that attorney Jabareen had sent a complaint to Mahash regarding Mr. Yazbak. In the complaint, attorney Jabareen directed Mahash to someone present at the scene of the killing (Dr. Mahmoud Yazbak), and to the doctor who treated Mr. Yazbak in the hospital before his death. Adalah also explained that Mahash had failed to fulfill its duty as an investigatory unit, and demanded once again that it open an investigation into all of the cases of killings perpetrated by the Israeli police at the beginning of October 2000.

Or Commission Report — Present

After the publication of the Or Commission report on 1 September 2003, Adalah wrote to the Director of Mahash, on 14 September 2003, inquiring as to whether or not Mahash intended to open an investigation into the incidents of killings and injuries during October 2000 demonstrations, pointing out that the Or Commission report recommended that Mahash should conduct such an investigation.

In its response to Adalah's letter, dated 23 September 2003, Mahash claimed to be conducting an examination into the Or Commission's recommendations, in accordance with the Attorney General's directions. Mahash also asserted that a group of lawyers was examining the material gathered by the Or Commission, but that the matter would take time, because of the huge volume of the material gathered by the commission. Mahash added that, as soon as decisions are made regarding the Or Commission's recommendations, the families of the deceased would be informed.

On 9 March 2004, Adalah again wrote to the Director of Mahash, inquiring after whether or not Mahash had adopted the Or Commission's recommendations, and asking to be informed either about the progress of any investigation subsequently launched, or the reasons why none had been opened. Adalah also emphasized in the letter that, despite the passing of six months since the publication of the Or Commission report, Mahash had not yet launched any investigation.

In Mahash's response of 24 March 2004, it claimed to still be examining the Or Commission's recommendations, and that decisions about whether or not to adopt them had still not been made. Mahash again argued that it needed more time to make its decisions, because of the huge amount of material gathered by the Or Commission, and the passing of a long period of time since the events of October 2000.

On 30 March 2004, Adalah wrote an extended letter to the Attorney General, demanding that he issue an urgent order to Mahash to open an investigation into those responsible for the killing of Arab citizens in October 2000. Adalah underlined the gravity of Mahash's omission in failing to launch any investigation both after October 2000, and after the publication of the Or Commission Report. Adalah emphasized that the Or Commission itself wrote in its report that those responsible for the killings were not only the police officers who opened fire, but also the sergeants in charge of the various areas in which citizens were killed, including Alik Ron, Benzi Sau and Moshe Waldman.

On 15 April 2004, the Attorney General responded to Adalah's letter, reiterating Mahash's claim that the lack of decision about the Or Commission's recommendations was a consequence of the huge volume of materials involved and the passing of a long period of time since the events of October 2000. The Attorney General also stated that Mahash had decided to open an investigation into one of the death cases, although decisions had not yet been made about the other cases.

In October 2004, Adalah wrote to the Director of Mahash after he was quoted in several media reports accusing the victims’ families and Adalah of impeding Mahash’s investigations. Adalah challenged these claims, clarifying that the families and Adalah had been and remained available to Mahash in order to facilitate the conduction and conclusion of a proper investigation.

In a letter to the Director of Mahash dated 16 March 2005, two and a half years after the Or Commission of Inquiry submitted its findings and recommendations, Adalah demanded that the investigation into the events of October 2000 be conducted properly. Adalah emphasized that in the time which has elapsed since the publication of the Or Commission Report, none of those responsible have been indicted. Adalah quoted retired-Justice Theodor Or, speaking a year after the Report's publication: “In light of the grave results of the events that Mahash is charged with investigating, in light of the fact that the testimonies obtained by investigators on behalf of the Commission and by the Commission itself were always available to everyone, including Mahash investigators, as long ago as when the Commission was performing its work; and in light of the fact that over a year has passed since the Commission made its recommendations, it is regrettable that the Mahash investigation has not accomplished more.”

On 12 April 2005, Adalah sent a letter to the Deputy Head of Mahash requesting an update for the victims’ families on the course of the investigation.

On 31 May 2005, Adalah wrote to the Director of Mahash, requesting information regarding the status of the Or Commission's recommendation to investigate the October 2000 killings. The letter mentioned Alik Ron, Commander of the Northern District in October 2000; Moshe Waldman, Commander of the Valleys Area in October 2000; Benzi Sau, Northern Border Police Commander in October 2000; and Guy Raif, Head of Misgav Police Station in October 2000.

Adalah also dealt with the unprecedented demand made by Mahash to exhume the bodies of four of the victims in order to conduct autopsies on them many years after the killings

Adalah wrote to Mahash on 6 June 2004, after the Director of Mahash approached Mr. Hassan Asleh to ask for his permission to exhume the body of his son, 17 year-old Asel Asleh, who was killed by the police in October 2000, in order to conduct an autopsy. Adalah stressed that Mahash's failure to conduct any investigations, although three and a half years had elapsed since the killings, and nine months since the publication of the Or Commission's report, and despite Adalah's numerous letters on the subject, constitutes a major omission. Adalah further claimed that the director's request to the bereaved families was disingenuous, since the matter had previously been raised during Or Commission hearings. At that time, Adalah responded to the commission on behalf of the bereaved families, and clarified the families' positions in this regard. Adalah added in its letter that the lack of integrity in Mahash's approach is also evident in its failure to investigate the circumstances surrounding the killing of four of the deceased, although they have had in their possession the autopsy reports of these victims since October 2000.

On 4 May 2005, Adalah reiterated its objection to the exhumation of the body of Asel Asleh in response to a motion submitted by Mahash to court. Adalah clarified in its response that the request of Mahash is unprecedented (because of the years which passed since the killing) and that the Asleh family’s objections to the exhumation over four years after Mr. Asleh’s death, explaining that the request would cause undue distress to the family. Adalah also noted that the exhumation would not contribute to a satisfactory explanation of the events surrounding Mr. Asleh’s death as Mahash itself conceded in its motion. Adalah stressed in its response that Mahash had acknowledged before the court that it did not conduct any investigation into the case of the death of Asel Asleh following the publication of the Or Commission’s Report. Following the submission of Adalah’s response, Mahash withdrew its motion.

Adalah sent repeated requests to Mahash to obtain information about the course of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Arab citizens at the hands of the police in October 2000. This information was requested in a specific way in the context of a demand to Mahash to exhume some of the bodies of the victims from their graves after the passing of some years since their deaths. This information was requested in order to enable the victims’ families to take a decision based on precise information on this important and sensitive issue. On 21 August 2005, in a meeting held between representatives from Adalah, the High Follow-Up Committee Arab Citizens in Israel and the Committee of the Victims' Families with Minister of Justice, Ms. Tzipi Livni, Adalah noted Mahash's refusal to provide the families with further information concerning its investigation. During the meeting Adalah submitted a letter to Minister Livni, in which it emphasized the lack of serious efforts on the part of Mahash into investigating police involvement in the killings since October 2000. The letter further stressed Mahash's disrespectful treatment of the families through its repeated demands to exhume the bodies of the victims, and that Mahash's demands to exhume the bodies is in violation of the right to dignity of both the victims and their families. Adalah clarified that, in accordance with Supreme Court decisions, other investigative measures must be exhausted before the exhumation of a body is conducted. This principle applies especially in cases such as these, where the requests to exhume the bodies were submitted years after the killings. In the meeting, Mahash changed its position, and agreed to inform the families about the progress of the investigations. However, the information subsequently provided by Mahash was inadequate.

On 1 September 2005, Adalah wrote to the Director of Mahash, outlining the objections of three of the victims’ families to Mahash's exhumation requests. Adalah argued that Mahash failed to provide the families with sufficient information on the investigations prior to its requests to exhume the bodies. Adalah noted that although Mahash had access to four of the reports of autopsies performed shortly after the killings, Mahash refused to take advantage this information to further its own investigation. Adalah stated that Mahash’s unprecedented request to exhume the bodies, after the passing of so much time since the killings, was disrespectful to the memory of the victims, would cause undue grief to the families, and would most probably not provide any information to further the investigations.