(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [archive])
The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Thursday convicted two policemen of committing common assault against a demonstrator protesting the Gaza disengagement plan in June 2005.
The defendants in the trial were Eran Na'im and Avraham Eliran. They face up to two years in jail for the acts they committed against Akiva Witkon, a student at a yeshiva in the Har Bracha settlement. Human Rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, an organization headed by Hebron resident Orit Struck, lodged a complaint with the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department against the policemen's behavior.
Witkon charged that during a demonstration that included blocking Rehov Jabotinsky, a main thoroughfare along the B'nei Brak-Ramat Gan municipal boundary, policemen knocked him to the ground and pinned him down. Na'im then kneeled down behind Witkon's head, stuck his fingers into the protester's nostrils and pulled them forcefully backwards, causing Witkon heavy bleeding.
Later, Witkon was taken to police headquarters. After talking back to a policeman, he was taken into a small room and beaten by several officers, including the other defendant in the trial, Avraham Eliran.
Witkon testified that there were 10 policemen and -women in the room, who forced him to lie down on the floor and then started beating him. Then, "[Eliran] approached me and slapped me a couple of times and punched me a couple of times with all his might when I couldn't resist. He continued punching me in the stomach with his fists and gave me a head butt."
Witkon said Na'im "shoved his fingers into my nostrils and pulled back hard in order to tear something. A large amount of blood spurted out." Before that, other policemen had "choked me, twisted my arms backwards and pushed my nose into my skull in order to break the nose."
Na'im did not deny the allegations, but said he had used reasonable and proportionate force to overcome the demonstrator's resistance and that pulling back hard on the nostrils was part of standard police procedure to contain disturbances. Eliran denied that he had assaulted Witkon.
Judge Hannan Efrati found Witkon's testimony against Na'im credible and added that it had been backed up by persuasive testimony from other witnesses. Although no one but policemen had been in the room with Witkon when he was beaten afterwards, Efrati found several reasons to accept his story, including the fact that the police had failed to keep records of what had happened in the room or who was there at the time.
The judge agreed to have both policemen sent to an adult probation officer and set the date of the next hearing, to hear character witnesses on behalf of the suspects before sentencing takes place, until September 5.