A border policewoman was convicted of assaulting a 25-year-old Arab-Romani girl by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court on Tuesday but was acquitted of obstruction of justice.
The contract border police officer, Orian Ben Khalifa, had grabbed and handled 25-year-old Hala Salim by her neck and hair in an altercation. The court said that Salim didn't present a threat to the officer to mandate the use of force.
Khalifa was assigned to block the passage of an area near Jerusalem's Old City Lion's Gate in November 2021 when Salim, her brother, and her mother attempted to pass.
Khalifa denied the family entry, but when they continued to demand passage, the court said she quickly resorted to force by pushing the girl without prior physical instigation.
After an exchange with the family, the officer grabbed Salim by the hijab and hair, resulting in the religious garment's removal. The girl was allegedly pulled to a police station by the hair and neck.
Differing claims between officer and child-in-question
The officer claimed that the girl had pushed her first, and she had been scratched and hit by Salim. The court said that it was possible that Salim and her family had indeed pushed back and tussled with the officer, but that Khalifa's assault was unprovoked. The officer noted that even though she had riot control tools she didn't use them, as proof of her intent.
At the security post, the girl was forced into a chair and cried. The officer was accused of shaking the girl by her neck and ordering her to "shut up."
Salim was taken to jail for holding, where she spent the night. She alleged that when she was released the officer called her a "whore." Throughout the incident, the family alleged multiple instances in which Khalifa had cussed at the family. Other officers testified that those protesting the arrest had also cursed and spat.
While initially didn't press charges, Salim said that she decided to do so when she returned home and saw scratches and bruises on her neck and behind her ear, and that on social media users were calling her a terrorist. Her father said that if the officer had initiated an apology that they would not have pursued charges.
While the incident occurred in a CCTV blindspot, there were cameras in the surrounding area, which seemed to support the accusations against the officer. A family member's cell phone recorded audio of when Salim was in the security post, which captured sounds of pained anguish from the girl.
A body camera was only activated inside the station. Khalifa claimed that it had only been activated later because it had fallen off her during the first physical exchange.
While multiple officers gave testimony of the events surrounding the initial incident, one border police officer in mandatory service who had been partnered with her felt that Khalifa had used excessive force, and corroborated much of the girl's recounting of events.
"We will review the verdict for the purpose of filing an appeal after a sentence is rendered. There is no doubt that based on the evidence there needs to be an acquittal and so we will act."Attorney Eyal Besserglick
Khalifa said that the officer was lying and that she had no reason to attack someone an hour before her shift ended. The officer told the court that she felt that the system had been persecuting her, and accused the investigation to be motivated by Salim's father's connections with the Israel Police. Salim's father represented the Arab-Romani community as a Mukhtar and worked with authorities to solve disputes. The court rejected these claims.
The prosecution had accused Khalifa of obstruction of justice because she hadn't detailed her own use of force in her police report and to the Police Internal Investigation Unit (Machash). She admitted that the report had been made after seeing videos of the incident, but the court decided because of failures of the Police Internal Investigation Unit to conduct proper interviews, they couldn't prove the intentional obstruction.
The criticism of the investigation of Machash came the same day that the State Comptroller issued his own scathing report on the inefficiency and professionalism of the unit.
The court ruled that it couldn't be determined beyond a reasonable doubt that the bruises and scratches were caused when Khalifa had used excessive force, or at parts of the incident in which she had validly used force. Consequently, she wasn't charged with aggravated assault.
Khalifa's attorney welcomed the acquittal of her obstruction and aggravated assault charges but said the legal fight wasn't over on the simple assault conviction.
"We will review the verdict for the purpose of filing an appeal after a sentence is rendered," said attorney Eyal Besserglick. "There is no doubt that based on the evidence there needs to be an acquittal and so we will act."
National security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a lawyer by training, said that he would study the verdict, and criticized the court for double standards.
"It is strange that a judge who acquitted a police officer who punched an ultra-Orthodox boy and claimed that it should be understood that he 'does not work under laboratory conditions,' did not take into account the fact that the combat soldier did not work under 'laboratory conditions' either," said Ben-Gvir.
The court said that it would take Khalifa's years of public service into account in sentencing.
The anti-racism NGO Tag Meir criticized Ben-Gvir for his comments, which they said supported Khalifa, saying that it revealed that his appointment to the ministerial role was unreasonable.
Another Machash indictment was filed on Monday against a Police officer who was alleged to have threatened a group of teens with his pistol.
Officer Alomg Tesa stopped a car with teenagers aged 15-17 after he had received a report of an unrelated erratic driver.
He allegedly then ran toward the vehicle, hit the hood of the vehicle, pulled his pistol out, and threatened to shoot the driver with his firearm.
The suspect then falsely claimed in his report that the teenagers had attempted to run him down with their car.
Correction: The original article stated that the girl was nine years old. This stemmed from a mistranslation of the court documents from Hebrew by the writer.