Cablegate: Adding Insult to Injury: The October 2000 Riots And

Published: Tue 27 Sep 2005 07:31 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: 2004 Tel Aviv 3331
2003 Tel Aviv 5405
2003 Tel Aviv 5283
2003 Tel Aviv 4989
1. The mid-September decision by the Department of Police
Investigation in the Ministry of Justice to pursue no
indictments in the police killings of 12 Israeli Arabs and
one Palestinian during the October 2000 riots has given rise
to embarrassment in official circles, and little public
expression of support. The angry response of Israeli-Arab
leaders is not, however, echoed by the majority of the
Israeli Jewish public. Failure to apportion responsibility
for the Arab fatalities may reaffirm the October 2000 riots
as an emblem of Israeli-Arab inequality rather than as the
positive turning point it might have provided for Jewish-
Arab relations in Israel.
End Summary
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2. The Department of Police Investigations report claimed
that lack of evidence prevented it from identifying as
culpable in the October 2000 killings any one of several
police snipers videotaped by news organizations on the scene
of the riots. Department Director Herzl Shviro told a
September 18 news conference that refusal by victims'
families to allow exhumations and autopsies deprived the
Department of essential ballistics evidence that might have
linked individual snipers to specific fatalities. The day
after the publication of the Department's final report, the
Hebrew-language Ha'aretz newspaper revealed that autopsies
had been performed on at least four victims of sniper fire -
- without, officials said, yielding decisive information as
to the identity of the responsible sniper. Regarding other
fatalities, a former Israel Police commander told Israel
Radio that in his opinion, the Department had yielded
somewhat too readily to the refusal of some families to
allow autopsies. Police and academic experts specializing
in the history of investigations into police conduct in
Israel asserted to the media that the Department is inclined
to indict only when conviction by a court is a near-
certainty. They added that the lack of readily available
evidence for such convictions should not have closed the
door to investigation.
3. One of the arguments leveled by the Department of Police
Investigations at its critics was that it was instructed by
the Attorney General not to embark on an investigation until
the completion of the Orr Commission inquiry. This
directive, the Department says, prevented it from
functioning for almost three years and resulted in the loss
of evidence that might otherwise have been collected from
the scene of the riots and from eyewitnesses who were later
reluctant to testify. In a lecture marking the second
anniversary of the Orr Commission findings, however, former
Commission member and expert on the Israeli Arab community
Shimon Shamir told a Tel Aviv University audience that the
Department could have gathered preliminary evidence during
the several weeks that elapsed between the riots and the
start of the Orr Commission's inquiry. Once the Orr
Commission concluded its report, the recommendation for
action was weak:
"Recommendations to initiate an investigation:
The committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice
Department for the Investigation of Police investigate a
number of incidents so that the proper authorities can
decide whether to initiate criminal proceedings against
anyone allegedly involved."
4. Shamir also noted that the generally poor level of the
Department's investigations had been the subject of
criticism in the August 2005 State Comptroller's report on
the Department. The author of that report, retired Judge
Micha Lindstrauss, revealed that only a small percentage of
the many cases submitted to the Department are actually
investigated. Of those investigated, he found that only
four percent had resulted in indictments.
5. Prominent Israeli Arabs say they were for the most part
not surprised by the decision, having had few expectations
and therefore little disappointment. Faisal Sawalha of the
Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev told
POL "The Arabs citizens should find a mechanism to tell the
world this is not a democratic state. It is democratic for
Jews, not Arabs." In addition to plans for domestic protest
such as strikes and rallies, local Arab leaders are talking
about taking their protest to international forums and
foreign states. Dr. Hanna Swaid, director of the Arab
Center for Alternative Planning and a former mayor of the
Arab-Israeli town of Eilaboun, sketched a familiar scenario:
"Justice is better done internally, but if not, then Arabs
will look internationally." Together with Dr. Phabet Abu
Ras, a Negev region mediator, Swaid told POL that the drive
for legal recourse by Israeli Arabs would draw inspiration
from the recent arrest warrants issued against IDF generals
in London. Dr. Abu Ras also said Israeli-Arab leaders plan
to meet with an upcoming delegation of Jewish Americans to
protest the Department's decision.
6. The Department's decision not to indict anyone in the
October 2000 killings elicited scant official government
response. The Minister of Internal Security, Gideon Ezra,
predictably upheld the conduct of the Israel Police and the
decision of the Department. In a strenuous defense of the
forces responsible for domestic security, Ezra praised the
ways in which the Orr Commission recommendations have been
implemented in regard to the handling of riot situations,
use of live ammunition and rubber bullets, and the
deployment of snipers. Ezra argued that the conditions that
combined to produce the bloodshed of October 2000 cannot
recur because the rules of engagement have been changed.
While insisting that the Department of Police Investigations
had been professional in its approach, however, Ezra stopped
short of discussing their decision not to indict.
7. Subsequent media condemnation of the decision sparked
angry reaction from the previously silent Justice Ministry.
In a hastily called September 21 news conference, Israel's
Attorney General, Meni Mazuz, said he was enraged by
allegations that the decision not to file indictments
demonstrated racism within the law enforcement system.
Mazuz said no one wanted to live in a country in which
indictments are filed in the absence of evidence merely to
gratify an individual or a public sector. Anyone, Mazuz
said, who believes the Department's decisions were wrong can
submit an appeal or petition the Supreme Court. In the
interim the Israeli Arab human rights monitoring group
Adalah has written to the State Comptroller to protest the
Department's report.
8. Initiating the legislature's inevitable discussion of
the decision was the Knesset Interior Committee, which has
held a first session to consider the Department's report and
its decision not to indict. It remains to be seen whether
the Committee will ask the kind of questions cited by
Professor Shamir as answerable without benefit of autopsies
or ballistics data: Why were police snipers deployed at the
scene of demonstrations by Israeli citizens? Why were they
equipped with lethal rubber-coated bullets and live
ammunition? Who gave the order to deploy them? Who gave
the order to open fire?
9. While the Orr Commission report was specific in naming
names, it did not produce any disciplinary proceeding to
implement its recommendations in regard to police personnel.
This was particularly glaring in the case of northern
District Police Commander Alik Ron, whom the Orr Commission
recommended for early retirement from the Israel Police.
Ron's retirement did transpire, but because it did not take
place as the result of a disciplinary proceeding, it was not
perceived by the Israeli-Arab community as redress of a
10. Amid the anger of Israeli Arabs, the Israeli media
prefigured what observers say may develop into a long-
overdue public debate on the disciplinary and judicial
options available to law enforcement and those investigating
its functioning. The op-ed pages of the daily papers
largely reflected the lack of credence the pundits gave to
the Police Investigations Department. Mainstream media
support for the Department's decision was tardy and took the
form of isolated op-eds from far-right columnists. Yisrael
Harel, in Ha'aretz of September 22, justified the lethal
fire of the Israel Police as "the only way left to policemen
to save themselves and perhaps not only themselves... until
reinforcements arrived." A day earlier, September 21, The
Jerusalem Post's Yossef Goell argued that "... it is obvious
to me why the police resorted to live fire. Just imagine
the consequences had the police failed to put down riots by
a radicalized Arab population." For the most part, the
media was not captive to hypothetical doomsday scenarios.
Rather than give the last word to such speculative analysis
it focused instead on what was known for certain -- that as
Israeli-Arab Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh said "people
had been killed and justice had yet to be seen to be done."
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