Rare indictment brought against rock-throwing settlers

The three indicted settlers could theoretically face up to 20 years in prison.

Border Police officers try to prevent Jewish settlers from interrupting Palestinian traffic after a stabbing attack, near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar [File] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Border Police officers try to prevent Jewish settlers from interrupting Palestinian traffic after a stabbing attack, near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Yitzhar [File]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office on Sunday filed a rare indictment with the city’s district court against three settler activists for rock-throwing at an Arab videographer on March 7, 2014 while he was driving on a road to film an outbreak of violence between Palestinians of Jilzun and settlers of Beit El.
The three, Mirhai Pinhasov, 49, from Beit El, Yechiel Meir Zilber, 26, from Jerusalem, and a then-17-year-old minor from Beit El, were charged with intentionally endangering lives on a public thoroughfare, intentional damage to a vehicle and causing a public disturbance.
Due to the charge of intentionally endangering lives on a public thoroughfare, the three could theoretically face up to 20 year in prison, though courts rarely give the maximum sentence in rock-throwing cases.
There are also accusations that soldiers on site observed the incident and refrained from stopping the settlers or from arresting them.
A criminal investigation by the IDF prosecution of the soldiers was initially closed, but the closure of the case has been appealed to the Military Advocate-General’s Office.
In the past, many cases of alleged rock-throwing or other attacks by Jews on Palestinians, without using a gun or a knife, have not led to indictments and have raised claims that law enforcement comes down harder on Palestinians than on Jews for similar kinds of attacks.
Even in this instance, the prosecution has been accused of dragging its feet, such that only repeated pushes by the victim, Abbas Momani, and his lawyer, Itai Mak, led to an indictment – which was not filed until almost two years after the incident.
The incident as described in the indictment started with rock-throwing between the adjacent Palestinian and Jewish areas around 1:30 p.m.
Abbas Momani, in his capacity as a videographer for European news outlets, was driving on the road bordering between the two areas to arrive at and videotape the altercation.
Ataf Safdi was on his way to the same altercation with Momani, driving in a second car behind him.
The three defendants, and an additional attacker whose identity is still unknown, approached the part of the road where Momani was about to arrive and at close range started throwing rocks at Momani and his vehicle while the vehicle was moving at a speed of around 50 kph.
In addition to many other rocks the defendants threw, Pinhasov, in particular, threw a large and heavy rock from a distance of only a few meters at the front windshield of Momani’s car, causing the window to break.
The indictment said the actions of the defendants not only caused a public disturbance, but endangered the life of Momani.
Regarding the unusual amount of time that passed until the indictment was filed, Mak said that essentially nothing happened in the case until he got involved on behalf of Momani in February, nearly one year after the incident.
The standard rule is that the police are supposed to investigate complaints by victims without a lawyer having to intervene on the victim’s behalf.
Mak said there was no rational explanation for why the investigation took so long.
He noted that the entire incident, including the identities of the defendants, was recorded on video and in photographs.
Bizarrely, Mak stated that the police claimed that the file had been lost, and that he had to refile the complaint.
Following Mak’s involvement though, the police and the IDF started questioning suspects within weeks.
That criminal investigation against the soldiers for allegedly failing in their duty to stop the defendants from attacking Momani was closed in July.
On August 17, Mak was allowed to review the file and found for the first time that IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz personally blocked transfer of a video of the incident to IDF investigators.
He said Almoz justified his refusal to transfer the video on the grounds that it was taken by a representative of his unit and that his unit was not created to collect evidence against soldiers.
The IDF refused to issue an official response.
Mak appealed the closing of the investigation against the soldiers in September and is still awaiting a decision by the MAG with no reliable estimation about when the appeal will be decided.
He also questioned the conduct of the police during the incident.
Internal IDF documents he quoted in his appeal to the MAG cited an IDF captain requesting the police arrest the settlers and noting that the police refused fearing reprisal by the settlers.
The police had not responded to the allegations by press time.