Analysis: Taking a harder line on police brutality

While the officers responsible for beating haredi protesters must be made examples of, it is unfair to allow their actions to define the nation’s invaluable first line of defense

By
September 20, 2017 07:49
3 minute read.
BORDER POLICE OFFICERS detain ultra-Orthodox protesters on Sunday during a draft riot in Jerusalem.

BORDER POLICE OFFICERS detain ultra-Orthodox protesters on Sunday during a draft riot in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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This week’s anti-conscription protest in Jerusalem, which resulted in many haredi (ultra-Orthodox) demonstrators being viciously punched, kicked and dragged by police officers, was not an aberration.​ ​

After a video of the melee was released online, the officers responsible for the unnecessary brutality were promptly condemned by the police commissioner and public security minister, and a probe into their misconduct by the Justice Ministry was opened.

Still, as this newspaper rightly pointed out in Tuesday’s editorial, Sunday’s spectacle was hardly an isolated incident.

Indeed, police officers have repeatedly used excessive force over the years against a wide range of Israelis – Ethiopian, Arab, and left and right-wing activists.
 
Video footage of an officer punching uniformed Ethiopian IDF soldier Damas Pakada in 2016 sparked widespread outrage, followed by multiple riots and protests by Ethiopian Israelis who said the assault was part of an ongoing and pervasive pattern of racism.

The brutal 2014 police beating of 15-year-old Tariq Abu Khdeir – who was repeatedly punched and kicked in the face by an officer while lying on his stomach with his hands tied behind his back – resulted in protracted rioting throughout east Jerusalem.

However, while those responsible for such black eyes to the only democracy in the Middle East should be dealt with in a more draconian manner, it is deeply unfair to cast generalizations and aspersions against men and women who are overwhelmingly moral and professional – despite operating in an unparalleled cauldron of geopolitical unrest.

The Israel Police, who are frequently dehumanized by critics as storm troopers devoid of a conscience, are faced with unique challenges day in and day out, particularly in Jerusalem, with its mix of religions and intermittent onslaughts of terrorist attacks.

As the Jerusalem correspondent for this paper, I was present at the scenes of dozens of terrorist attacks, riots and protests, and seen the blood and covered corpses of officers murdered in the line of duty. St.-Sgt. Maj. Hadas Malka, 23, murdered by a terrorist in June while patrolling Damascus Gate and Cpl. Hadar Cohen, 19, who saved untold lives before being killed in the same location last year by a terrorist armed with two pipe bombs, are not anomalies. They are the norm.


Unfortunately, as in any profession, there will always be a few bad apples who disgrace themselves, and demoralize their colleagues. The officers involved in Sunday’s actions against the haredi protesters appear to fall under this category.

But to conflate bad cops with otherwise fundamentally upstanding men and women who undertake a profoundly dangerous job that few want, or could stomach, is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.

There is no question that officers guilty of contemptible behavior against those they are assigned to protect routinely get off with a relative slap on the wrist in Israel, as well as other democratic nations, including the United States.

Despite being indicted for assault, the officer who beat Khdeir was sentenced to 45 days of community service. The officer who repeatedly struck Pakada was absolved by the attorney general, who concluded that Pakada was somehow responsible for being attacked.

And yet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-police commissioner Yohanan Danino still saw fit to personally meet with Pakada to apologize on behalf of the police for the attack against him, and vowed to do more to combat racism.

As the Justice Ministry now reviews evidence of abuse the haredi protesters endured by the officers this week, perhaps it’s time to make examples of the minority of men responsible for disgracing an otherwise honorable profession and nation.

Indeed, as Rosh Hashana and the promise of a New Year approaches, it is time to stop apologizing to the victims of police brutality, while at the same time allowing the officers responsible for barbaric mistreatment to walk away with nominal discipline.

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