Yesh Din appeals closure of suspected arson case

Gilad Farm settlers suspected of deliberately setting fire to Palestinian orchards.

By DAN IZENBERG
April 6, 2010 03:59
2 minute read.

Twice on the same day, the army failed to provide an escort for policemen and a fire investigator who were due to investigate the cause of a fire that broke out in the olive and almond orchards of two Palestinian farmers, the legal adviser of Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights charged on Monday.

The attorney, Michael Sfard, represents Adel B’ri and Muhammad Tzoen, from the villages of Amatin and Artah, whose orchards caught fire on July 21, 2008.

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The Central District Attorney’s Office recently informed Sfard that it was closing the case against two settlers suspected of deliberately setting fire to the orchards, Zvi Gurkovich and Itai Zer, on grounds of lack of guilt.

On Monday, Sfard appealed the decision in a letter to Central District Attorney Ruth David (Criminal Matters).

According to police descriptions of the events, quoted in Sfard’s letter, “A violent clash broke out between settlers from Gilad Farm and Palestinians. Soldiers arrived at the scene and dispersed them... Police arrived at the scene after the brawl ended. When they got there, the saw a fire in Palestinian olive orchards near Amatin. It was dark and all of a sudden a Renault truck arrived from the direction of the fire with its lights out... Policeman Yaron Vitoser managed to stop the truck.

“The car, which was driving on a path leading directly to the fire, was driven by Zvi Yehuda Gurkovich, a resident of Kedumim. Vitoser searched the car and found a black jerry can containing a flammable liquid. Gurkovich’s hands smelled of the liquid. The suspect claimed he was in the area because he had seen a brawl and wanted to help. Afterward, when another policeman, Uzi Shamir, asked him the same question, he said he had noticed the fire and went to see it and find out if anyone needed help.”

A few minutes later, Zer also reached the policemen from the direction of the fire.

The following day, the police, including fire investigator Avner Muzafi, arrived at the Kedumim intersection and waited for an army escort to take them to the scene of the fire. It failed to show up. The police rescheduled the escort with the army for later in the day, but again the soldiers did not show up. There was no further attempt to investigate the scene of the fire.

Sfard summed up his argument by emphasizing that Gurkovich had clearly used the fuel, since his hands smelled of it. He was seen driving on a path leading from the fire with his lights out. Zer also was walking from the scene of the fire. Both refused to answer questions during their interrogation by police.

Sfard said that the decision to close the file on the grounds of lack of guilt was “scandalous.”

According to Yesh Din lawyer Neta Patrick, “This incident proves the failure of law enforcement regarding crimes against Palestinians for ideological reasons. We can see that the failure is not just that of the Judea and Samaria District police but also of the Central District Attorney’s Office, which decided in a scandalous manner to close the case for lack of guilt.”


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