Tape of Israeli police violence draws official ire Netanyahu accuses men of irresponsible behavior

November 20, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- A televised videotape of two Israeli policemen kicking and slapping Palestinian laborers brought condemnations from government officials yesterday. Human rights activists said the broadcast reaffirmed behavior that's frequent.

The police brutality occurred about five weeks ago at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem. An amateur Palestinian photographer videotaped the incident and offered it to Israel's state-owned television station. The tape aired Monday night.

By yesterday morning, the tape had been seen around the world. The two policemen were under arrest. An investigation was under way. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the men of irresponsible and criminal behavior.

"We cannot accept such people in our security apparatus," Netanyahu said. "People who behave this way don't deserve to be in the military armed forces."

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat called the behavior "shameful."

But human rights activists said the case was not unique. Several weeks ago, B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, issued a report of 10 documented cases of violence against Palestinians.

"Nothing is unusual in this case but the fact that the camera caught this on the screen," said Yizhar Be'er, the group's executive director and author of the report. "These two policemen are part of our society. In the continued situation of military occupation, there are always young people influenced by these circumstances to see an enemy and not a human being."

The broadcast of the videotape came in the wake of several violence-related controversies:

Decisions this week by the Israeli Supreme Court that upheld the right of Israeli secret police to use painful methods of interrogation when questioning alleged terrorists. Human rights lawyers say the interrogation methods amount to torture -- violent shaking, sleep deprivation, handcuffing prisoners to small stools or overhead bars.

Yesterday, the Israeli media also reported a fine of 1 agarot -- less than a penny -- levied by a military court against four Israeli soldiers who shot at a Palestinian car that ran a checkpoint, killing one of the passengers.

The border police reported that police beat up residents of the West Bank town of Kalkilya during a clash last week. Three border policemen admitted to the beatings.

The tension inherent in Israel's occupation of West Bank Palestinian territories and the Jewish state's constant battle against terrorism help to create an atmosphere that seems to make such behavior conscionable, said Be'er.

During the violent years preceding the 1993 peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, "there were cases of beating but most of them were during confrontation. This is not the same."

The two policemen in the videotape carried rifles. The six Palestinians stopped at the checkpoint were unarmed. They were laborers who had entered Israel without the proper permits. The videotape shows the workers seated alongside a building with their hands clasped behind their heads.

The two border policemen are shown kicking and slapping the Palestinians. One policeman sits on the head of a Palestinian. Another knees a detainee in the stomach. Three Palestinians are forced to do push-ups. When a passerby appears to ask what's happening, one of the border policemen slaps him. The abuse occurred over 45 minutes -- all videotaped by the amateur photographer.

The police officers, Itzak Shmaya, 19, and David Ben-Abu, a 20-year-old squad commander, were detained yesterday and questioned by a special unit in the Justice Ministry that investigates complaints against police officers.

Gen. Israel Sadan, commander of the border police, met yesterday with the officers' unit. "I am sure this is not the only incident in the company," Sadan said in a television interview. "I can't prove it, but I am sure."

According to the Justice Ministry, the special unit that investigates cases against police officers receives about 300 complaints a month, about two-thirds of which are found to be justified.

Three years ago, a panel investigating police brutality found problems within the Israeli police system, and especially the border police unit.

"We found Israeli police had a real problem of violence," said Mordechai Kremnitzer, a Hebrew University Law School professor heading the panel. "We found that there was a leniency, a tendency among administrators to keep the bad apples in the basket."

The panel identified as a special problem relations between police and Arabs, although brutality against Jews also was noted. Kremnitzer said problems with the border police stemmed from the youth and immaturity of the men, who are usually 18 to 19 years old.

Although human rights activists say the majority of brutality cases involve Israelis against Palestinians, earlier this year members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community accused bTC police of beating fellow religious members during demonstrations in Jerusalem.

"What you see here [the videotaped police beating], it's not a new thing," said Mordechai Arnon, a religious Jew who operates a nonprofit educational organization. "Nobody has the power and the strength to fight back. You have to have a lawyer and thousands of dollars."

Pub Date: 11/20/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.