by Noam Sheizaf
Between the years 2013 and 2016, Israeli anti-occupation group Yesh Din tracked the police’s response to 289 cases of “ideological crimes” against Palestinians in the West Bank. In each of those cases, the Palestinians filed a complaint with the police; some of them included photographic material, video, and testimonies provided by Israeli civilians or soldiers. And yet, only 20 cases led to indictments. In no less than 183 of them, the police were unable to locate the criminals or find evidence; more often than not, they never truly carried out a real investigation. Of the 45 cases that were opened between 2012-2014 following violence by Israelis from the radical settlement of Yitzhar against Palestinians and their property (a phenomenon known as “price tag attacks”), only one led to an indictment.
Since the beginning of the Second Intifada, B’Tselem, another Israeli anti-occupation organization, demanded the State Attorney’s Office investigate the 739 cases in which Palestinians were killed, beaten, or wounded by soldiers, or their property damaged (as opposed to Yesh Din’s cases, which deal violence by Israeli civilians against Palestinians). In a quarter of these incidents, not a single investigation was undertaken. In half of them, the cases were closed and only 25 cases ended in indictments. When B’Tselem asked for updates on 44 cases, the state attorney was unable to even locate the files.
Three years have passed since “Black Friday,” in which the Israeli army used the Hannibal Procedure, killing (some say purposefully) hundreds of Palestinians in the city of Rafah during Operation Protective Edge. The state attorney is still debating whether or not to investigate the incident, despite the recommendations by an Israeli committee, which established that these kinds of decisions must be made within 14 months, at most.
This is the context underlying the police and the army’s investigations of violence in the occupied territories. At best, investigations are characterized by apathy, foot dragging, and negligence; at worst, they are beset by distortions, whitewashing, and cooperation with criminals.
Those who want to gain a better understanding of the way the authorities investigate the killing of Palestinians should take a look at the “License to Kill” series, which was published on these pages by John Brown and Noam Rotem. In some of these cases, the army took a year or two to even open an investigation into the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces. Security guards who lied during their testimony were never summoned for a second interrogation. An officer who claimed to have fired rubber bullets — when in fact he used live fire — was never put on trial. The IDF tried to avoid investigating the murder of two Palestinian teens in Beitunia two years ago, until the media pressure caused it to indict a Border Police officer, who was later given a plea bargain.
Compared to all these incidents, the story of Dean Issacharoff, the Breaking the Silence spokesperson who is now facing the wrath of the government and the media, is very minor. Issacharoff’s story can be summed up as such: he used excessive force while arresting a Palestinian in Hebron. Every soldier who has served in the occupied territories has encountered these incidents. The only unusual thing this time around is how active the police and the State Attorney’s Office have become over the past few months.
Issacharoff spoke about the incident on April 4th this past year. A month later, a hasbara group called “Reservists on Duty” published a video in which they claimed his testimony was deceitful. Eleven days later after that video aired, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman demanded Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked call on the State Attorney’s Office to investigate the incident. Shaked did so, and within a month, Issacharoff was summoned for investigation at the Kiryat Arba police station. He stood behind his original testimony, and a month later was interrogated again.
Last week, the state attorney announced it was closing the case, determining that the incident in question never took place and that Issacharoff had lied. According to Issacharoff, the State Attorney’s Office interrogated the wrong Palestinian the whole time. There is no way to determine who is right, but the fact that the arrest, which the state attorney investigated, was documented in Issacharoff’s original testimony to Breaking the Silence ostensibly supports his version of the events.
Joy on the Right, Apathy on the Left
But the Issacharoff case is not the main story here. After all, these incidents are a routine part of the occupation. Far worse incidents — murder, vandalism, abuse — have begotten legal procedures that take months or years, and are often eventually closed. The urgency in Issacharoff’s case is entirely political — stemming from the desire to undermine the legitimacy of Breaking the Silence — and not a single person involved, be they Liberman, Shaked, or the state attorney, has bothered to deny it. On the contrary: the moment the case was closed, the entire Right — including the prime minister — shoved their way to the podium to claim credit for the victory over Breaking the Silence. It also served as an excuse to speed up legislative initiatives against the organization. Once again, no one is hiding the fact that they are targeting a specific organization, or that their motives are wholly political.
More than anything, however, Issacharoff’s story evinces just how deeply Israeli institutions have been corrupted as a result of the occupation. It proves that human rights organizations are right when they say that the state’s investigative bodies are deeply politicized and are unable, or simply uninterested, in doing their job.
The thought that politicians would send the state attorney to persecute Israeli citizens due to their political activities sounds terrifying. But in the context of the occupation, such a move is greeted with apathy on the Left and adulation on the Right. Just as the IDF is transforming from the sovereign whose role is to ensure the well being of the occupied population to being the Army of the Jewish People, which is supposed to act according to the rules of warfare vis-a-vis millions of Palestinian subjects. As the occupation continues, not a single Israeli institution can escape this metastasizing — not the media, not the universities, not the police, and not the security-based tech sector. Ethics and principles go out the window in favor of a national project of ruling over another nation by force. A dictatorship at the heart of a democracy.
Israelis are not the victims of the occupation — the victims are the Palestinians. But we must also say something about the persecution of Dean Issacharoff. The investigations against the Breaking the Silence spokesperson are a win-win for the government: either Issacharoff is a liar, or he can be put on trial, thus dissuading others from providing testimony to the organization.
Israel sends 18 year olds to rule over another nation. When they describe the reality of the occupation as they experienced it, the government unleashes the media, the far-right groups, and now the police and the state attorney. Beyond that, the apathy with which the Left treats these grotesque events is astounding. The center-right is all praise, and the Left is busy teaching civics classes about who is or isn’t considered a Jew. Meanwhile, the cancer of the occupation continues to metastasize.
Noam Sheizaf is an independent journalist and editor. He has worked for Tel Aviv’s Ha-ir local paper, for Ynet.co.il and for the Maariv daily, where his last post was deputy editor of the weekend magazine. His work has recently been published in Haaretz, Yedioth Ahronoth, The Nation and other newspapers, and magazines.Reprinted, with permission, at +972 Magazine. Photo: Dean Issacharoff