The Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee during a special session held Tuesday called on the state prosecution to drop all charges against a 17-year-old American-Israeli who was subjected to alleged police abuse and repeated gang rape at a prison while being temporarily held over minor suspicions in November.
The session was held in response to a news broadcast by Channel One last month detailing S’s ordeal. S’s story was first brought to public light by The Jerusalem Post.
The teenager, S. (his name is being withheld to protect his privacy), said he was beaten repeatedly by Karmiel police officers after being arrested on suspicion of carrying 1.2 grams of hashish and, according to police, “plotting to break and enter into a home,” – a charge vehemently denied by the teenager’s family, who say his only mistake was to urinate in the yard of a neighbor while waiting for his girlfriend to come home.
During the stormy Knesset committee session, the teenager’s attorney, Amir Melzer, noted that state prosecutors are still insisting on prosecuting the youth, adding that he has been indicted and summoned to a court date scheduled for February 8.
“I am asking the state prosecution to close this case. This youth does not have faith in state institutions. Take this minimal step,” said Committee Chairman MK David Azulai.
Moshe Saada, of the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department, said an ongoing investigation into the alleged physical abuse of the boy by police officers has resulted “in an indication that the content of the teen’s complaint is true.”
S. told PID investigators that officers slapped and beat him around the head as he was driven to the Karmiel police station in a patrol car, adding that the abuse continued inside the Karmiel police station interrogation room until his father and brother arrived.
Saada said that the investigation was not yet complete, adding that in general, PID investigators have confronted “the phenomenon of a conspiracy of silence by police in investigations of this type. These are very complex investigations.”
After being arrested, S. was later subjected to a four-day harrowing ordeal of gang rape while being temporarily held at the Kishon prison near Haifa, according to state prosecutors. Official medical reports composed by doctors who examined S. fully back his account of the abuse. Three youths went on trial this week for the alleged offenses, and S. testified for four hours during the first day of the trial on Monday.
The Knesset committee was shown last month’s Channel One news item about the story, which drew stunned responses from committee members.
“Have we become Sodom?” asked a shocked MK Amir Peretz. “I have asked the attorney general and public security minister to cease all legal steps against the teenager, who has paid a heavy price for failure after failure by the system. He was sent from one center of abuse to another.”
The committee was asked by state prosecutors not to comment on S’s case, as it was still the subject of a PID investigation and two trials, but Peretz said he was “unable to silence myself. We are not involved in the investigation, and it is unimaginable that limitations will be placed on us.”
Representing the Israel Police, Dep.-Cmdr. Alon Grossman gave a combative performance during his appearance before the committee, saying, “We want to protect minors, but not in the media or in the Knesset. I know, based on the facts, that a big part of the allegations [against police] are not true.”
Grossman said he could not answer questions by committee member MK Dov Henin over whether S. was interrogated by a youth officer or brought before a youth judge, as the case was still under investigation.
MK Aryeh Bibi said he was disappointed with police for not sending its Northern District chief, Cmdr. Shimon Koren, to the session, and that Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen failed to appear. At the same time, he added, he was concerned that the whole of the police was being tarred by the case, adding that “there are many good police officers” in the service, and that “we only have one police force.”
The session was also attended by the Prison Service’s Northern District Head Warden, Michael Halfon. “We are hurting over every unusual incident,” Halfon said. The Prison Service has set up a committee of inquiry headed by two senior female wardens to look into what went wrong, he added.
“The Kishon prison’s youth ward holds 20 prisoners maximum,” Halfon said. “Every prisoner meets with a doctor and social worker before going into his cell,” he added. The cells are within earshot and visual proximity of wardens, and are monitored by CCTV.
“There is no separation between youths according to the types of
offenses they carried out in jails across the country, and this is a
very severe problem,” said attorney Moran Kablo, of the Israel Bar
Association, who was appointed by the Ministry of Public Security to
monitor the state of prisons. “The conditions of imprisonment are quite
shameful and there is violence against youths.”
Dr. Yitzhak Kadmon, Director of the National Child Welfare Council,
added that “the conditions of custody for youths are impossible, and
are difficult to monitor.”
MK Azulai closed the session by appealing to S’s family, which has
expressed a desire to leave Israel, saying, “Please know that there are
good people in the country who care for them and will continue to
support them. We hope they don’t feel they have to leave the country.”
Azulai vowed that the committee would continue to monitor S’s case and make every effort for justice to be served.