Probe: Police failed in Peki'in riots

Inquiry singles out 12 commanders; says clashes exposed deep-rooted nat'l, social problems.

pekiin riots 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
pekiin riots 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Gross organizational failures within the Israel Police marked its handling of the riots in Peki'in on October 30, in which 29 police officers and 13 civilians were injured, an internal police probe has concluded. But the investigation's report, which was released for publication in its entirety on Thursday evening, also noted that a long chain of provocative events preceded the violence. While the Druse leadership seemed to embrace at least some of the committee's conclusions, others criticized the fact that Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen had spared the neck of Northern District chief Cmdr. Shimon Koren, choosing to absolve him of direct responsibility for the events that left a once-peaceful Galilee town simmering in anger. "The description of events and the committee's probe draw a picture indicating that at different stages of preparing and carrying out the operation, errors were made that prevented the operation from achieving its goal and led to serious results," said Cohen in response to the report. He added that during the riots, the police's ability to enforce the law - specifically in the Northern District - "did not withstand the test." Deputy Foreign Minister Majallie Whbee (Kadima), who is Druse, urged Cohen to oust Koren. "The decision to keep Koren in office after it was shown that he failed in his post is a slap in the face of the rule of law and the Druse public," Whbee said. "Only by removing Koren from his office can the police rehabilitate its relationship with the Druse." The panel said that while the protests were triggered by the installation of a cellular antenna in nearby Peki'in Hahadasha, "there was tension between Jewish and Druse residents on national, social, and environmental issues." Cohen himself launched the probe into the riots, which began after a force of around 200 police entered the village to arrest a number of youths suspecting of burning down the cellular antenna. The police were met with stiff resistance by some villagers, whom, the report found, threw rocks and stun grenades at the officers. In some instances, the report said, police were stabbed with knives, beat with brass knuckles and - in one case - attacked with an axe. The committee, led by Cmdr. David Kraoza, said that "in the course of the incident gunfire was heard from the side of the lawbreakers" and also confirmed that police used live fire against demonstrators, noting that three Peki'in residents were shot. The use of live ammunition, and the subsequent injury of residents is currently being investigated by the Justice Ministry's Police Investigative Department. In addition to kidnapping a policewoman, the crowd attempted to kidnap an injured policeman from inside an ambulance, and injured members of a Magen David Adom ambulance crew that arrived on the scene to treat the wounded. "In the course of the incident," the committee wrote, "the command lost control of the forces - as a result, the forces were dispersed and were unable to carry out the assignments they had been given." On the Druse side, they said, "in the village, the traditional leadership - the sheikhs and the elders - were not in control. The disturbances were caused by the youths who excited the crowds and determined the mood." Most of the report, however, focused on specific criticisms of police planning and tactics. News of the operation, the committee found, had been leaked in advance to villagers, allowing them to prepare for the police entry. In the course of the operation, which the committee said "did not achieve its goals," police officers were left without a clear command structure in the midst of serious civil disturbances, and in some cases, rank-and-file cops were left in unfamiliar areas without any communications capability to receive commands or alert commanders of the changing picture on the ground. At times, police resorted to using their own cellular phones to communicate with their higher-ups." The committee recommended a number of steps to clarify responsibilities of commanders and staff officers during such incidents, and Cohen said Thursday that some of those were already underway. The document also contained a number of personal recommendations - although, unusually for such a critical report - some of the recommendations included citations for personal bravery on the part of police and civilians alike. Koren was cited by the committee as holding general responsibility for the operation as well as direct responsibility for crisis management and the making of significant decisions. Although the panel determined that he seriously erred in a number of aspects of his performance, it left in Cohen's hands the decision as to what steps to take against the senior officer. Cohen, in turn, determined that Koren, the highest-ranking officer criticized by the committee, was not directly responsible for the chain of events and would receive a critical administrative warning regarding his general responsibility for the failed operation. Lt.-Cmdr. Nir Mariash, Koren's subordinate and then-chief of the Galilee Subdistrict, fared much worse, with the committee determining that Mariash was directly responsible for the operation, as he was both listed as the commander in the written initial plans and served as the commander in the field as the operation was underway. The committee found serious failures both in the preparatory stages of the operation as well in the course of the operation itself, and recommended that Mariash be barred for two years from serving in a command position. Cohen had already transferred Mariash out of the subdistrict he had commanded for one year, and placed him in an administrative position as head of police technological development. Mariash's operations commander, Dep.-Cmdr. Yossi Ben-Hemmo, was also found to be responsible for organizational failures and was similarly barred for two years from command positions. Ch.-Supt. Hamid Shagog, commander of the Arbel Unit, faced some of the most biting criticism, with the committee recommending that he be barred from holding another command position within the Israel Police. The probe found that he abandoned the unit under his command, after which a Border Police unit suffered a number of casualties as well as the kidnapping of border policewoman Liat Daoudi. Shagog was also found to have given specific instructions to his unit not to use the defensive equipment required under such situations. On the flip side of the coin, Ch.-Supt. Meir Eliyahu and Supt. Hasan Zaidan were cited for bravery and Peki'in residents Supt. Muhammad Dib and IDF Maj. A'anan Abas were recommended for citations for protecting the kidnapped border policewoman. Similarly, Shagog's deputy, Supt. Aind Awidah, and Arbel Company Commander Supt. Muhammad Asad, as well as retired police officer and Peki'in resident Zahabi Zarka, were all recommended for high police honors as a result of their efforts to save lives during the violence. Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Muafak Tarif hailed the committee's findings, calling them "courageous conclusions." "We hope all the recommendations will be implemented," Tarif told Israel Radio, saying that the riot "left a scar in the heart of every Druse." "I hope such mistakes won't be repeated," he said. "Previously, procedures were in place so that police would coordinate with us and we would solve any problems together. I hope we can return to this situation."