Court blasts police for undercover operation to entrap violent settlers around Sussiya

Palestinians had filed numerous complaints of a group of violent Jewish settlers of allegedly beating Palestinians in the area without having been provoked.

December 9, 2015 21:11
3 minute read.
illegal Palestinian village

The tents of the illegal Palestinian village of Sussiya, with the Jewish settlement in the background. An EU logo is on a sign not far from the Palestinian flag. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday blasted the police for an undercover operation meant to entrap violent settlers in the Sussiya area and acquitted three out of four settlers who were allegedly connected to an attack on undercover officers posing as Palestinians in a suspicious area.

The court’s Deputy President Hagit Mak-Kalmanovith also convicted one of the settlers for attacking one of the two undercover police officers.

On October 4, 2012, two undercover officers, Uzi Vana and Oz Vituri, posed as Palestinians a few hundred meters from the unfenced West Bank settlement of Sussiya, south of Hebron.

Palestinians had filed numerous complaints of a group of Jewish settlers allegedly beating Palestinians in the area without having been provoked.

The purpose of the operation was to serve out the undercover officers as bait in order to catch the violent settlers.

Shimon Ben-Gigi was convicted on Wednesday of beating Vituri with a stick, which caused him some light injuries.

David Poupko and Ilan Vinalda were acquitted as having stood nearby but without attacking anyone, and Amihai Zuaretz was acquitted as having merely filmed the incident.

A central part of the trial was whether and at what point the defendants realized that Vana and Vituri were policemen.

In the early verbal interactions between the sides, Vana and Vituri maintained their cover, responding in Arabic that they did not understand Hebrew to threats from the defendants of violence if they did not leave the area.

But after Ben-Gigi attacked Vituri with a stick, the officers called out “police” in Hebrew several times, used pepper spray in self-defense and broke their cover.

Ultimately, Mak-Kalmanovith concluded that the police operation was flawed entrapment from its inception.

She accepted explanations from the defendants and from some security officials from the area that the location of the altercation had witnessed real terrorist attacks by Palestinians in the past and that the conduct and particular spot the police chose for their operation was highly suspicious in and of itself.

Mak-Kalmanovith wrote, “The incident was a provocation and included deviating circumstances that were not routine,” and noted that the land the policemen were on posing as shepherds was not farmland, that they were without sheep and were there for an unusually long time.

The judge called “the circumstances sufficient to raise a serious suspicion” and even fear by the defendants that the undercover policemen were actually planning an attack.

On these grounds and because of their lack of violent involvement, the court acquitted three of the defendants.

Ben-Gigi was convicted because despite the suspicions, at the end of the day he attacked the police without having been ttacked by them.

Overall, the court viewed the police undercover operation as completely misplanned and far too close to entrapment.

A press release by the Tikshoret Nechona NGO said that after the incident, then-public security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch had committed to ending such undercover operations against settler activists, but that he did not uphold the promise.

The press release cited additional similar undercover operations at the Bat Ayin, Givat Ronen and Kochav Hashahar settlements.

Lawyers for the defendants from the Honenu NGO and from the Public Defender’s Office praised the court for having the courage to take on the police for its conduct in the case and one even said he would consider suing the police for civil damages.

The Justice Ministry said that it could not comment on the case as it had avoided involvement and left the case to the police.

In rare such cases where the Justice Ministry refuses involvement, it can be a sign that the police’s case will run into trouble.

The police did not issue a statement regarding the decision.

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