Police reform now

The shooting of Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Tekah set off nationwide protests by the community against what they claim is rampant police racism

August 11, 2019 21:03
3 minute read.
Police reform now

ETHIOPIAN PROTESTERS hold a placard reading ‘I’m not just a color,’ during a demonstration against police brutality in which they blocked Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, on January 30.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

There are many problems with the police in Israel. Policemen are frequently accused of excessive force, of ignoring calls for help and of racism. Most recently, the shooting of Ethiopian-Israeli Solomon Tekah set off nationwide protests by the community against what they claim is rampant police racism.

This week, the police reached a new low after Haaretz revealed that policemen had planted an M-16 assault rifle in the basement of an Arab’s residence in east Jerusalem. Why? So they could be filmed for a TV show discovering and taking it out.
The filming was done about a year ago for the final episode of the wildly-popular reality TV show “Jerusalem District,” which purports to show how the capital’s police handle real-life situations. Produced by KAN, Israel’s public broadcaster, film crews followed a team of police officers throughout last year as they went about their daily operations.

In the final episode, police raided the home of Samer Sleiman in the Arab neighborhood of Isawiyah. During the episode, policemen discover a trap door in the floor, go down inside with flashlights (even though there was a light switch) and are surprised to discover an M-16 standing upright in a corner.

Even as the policemen celebrated their discovery, Sleiman was not arrested, not charged and in a report of the raid that police provided him, it said that nothing had been found. The weapon was a fairly new M-16, unlike most weapons used by Palestinians. “If I had a weapon worth NIS 100,000,” Sleiman told Haaretz, “Do you think I’d keep it in a wet hole in the basement?”

What apparently had happened was that the policemen planted the weapon after coming up empty-handed. The idea was proposed by a member of the production staff that was accompanying the police and was approved by the senior officer present.
Once the story broke, police immediately apologized and placed the blame on the production company. Merav Lapidot, the police spokesperson at the time of the show’s filming, tried to argue last week that the police actually did nothing wrong.

KAN, for its part, first removed just the specific episode from its website and then the entire series.

“We apologize for any harm the civilian endured as a result of the segment being aired,” the police stated as part of its apology, “the issue is being investigated and the necessary lessons will be implemented accordingly.”

This is not enough. If police are willing to plant a gun in someone’s home just to film a TV show, what else are policemen willing to do? Next time someone is arrested for a crime, how do we know it really happened and wasn’t made up? The callousness with which these policemen played with innocent peoples’ lives is inexcusable. It doesn’t only need to be thoroughly investigated, but those involved should also be prosecuted for abusing their authority. This is not a game. They were playing with peoples’ lives.

Sadly, it seems today that the police have reached a nadir in the eyes of the Israeli public. People look at policemen and are suspicious and cautious. Many citizens talk about a feeling that when police get involved in something – a traffic jam, a protest or a neighborhood dispute – they usually make matters worse.

This has got to change. If people don’t feel safe in their own homes, if they don’t feel that they can trust the police force and if they have to think twice before calling 100, then there is a severe problem. Add to this, the fact that police have not had a commissioner in almost a year – there is an acting one – then how can anything really change?

One day it is a police officer shooting at the ground near a young Ethiopian-Israeli and the next day it is the police planting weapons in peoples’ homes. It is scary to think what might come next.

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