For more than six months, dozens of Israelis** and hundreds of Palestinians have been demonstrating every weekend against the construction of the separation fence near the West Bank village of Bil'in. These demonstrations, defined by participants as peaceful, frequently turn into violent clashes with the Border Police's Company 22, assigned to disperse the demonstrations. An investigation by Haaretz has found that policemen from that company have made false accusations against demonstrators and even made arrests on the basis of those accusations. Palestinians thus detained can be held for eight days before being brought before a judge.
In other cases, soldiers gave false testimony about rock throwing and other violence when most of the protests were peaceful. However, there were instances in which Border Police were hurt by rocks thrown by demonstrators at Bil'in.
In recent weeks, three judges harshly criticized troops after watching videotapes that nullified their allegations. In at least two cases the judges questioned the excessive force used against peaceful and restrained protesters. Footage taken by Shai Caremeli-Polack, who documents the demonstrations for the organization Anarchists Against the Wall, was presented in the various court hearings and contradicted the claims of Border policemen that the conduct of demonstrators had compelled them to use batons, kick and fire tear gas directly at the demonstrators.
In the wake of one of these incidents, police officials this week harshly criticized the behavior of Company 22.
Two of the cases examined by the courts or the police's Internal Affairs Department (IAD) are detailed here. Last Friday, Bil'in residents demonstrated with Israeli and overseas human rights activists. Border Policemen arrested a Beit Lakia resident (name withheld). The troops transferred the suspect to the Judea and Samaria Police for questioning, on the grounds that he had assaulted a policeman.
Anarchists Against the Wall activists rushed to the station and showed investigators their complete documentation of the incident. The videotape, which Haaretz has also obtained, clearly shows the Border policemen violently attacking the man and kicking him after they had subdued him and held him prone on the ground. "After the investigator saw the film, he immediately decided to release the detainee and transferred the case file to IAD to review the Border Policemen's conduct," a police officer said yesterday.
On July 20, Border Police arrested two Israeli demonstrators at Bil'in - Shaul Berger Mugrabi and Moshe Robas, claiming they had participated in an illegal assembly, assaulted a policeman and interfered with police work. Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Yoel Tzur watched the videotape of the incident and lambasted the police: "The Border policemen who were involved in the incident are indeed framing the two respondents, yet I cannot shake off the impression created by the tape that shows distinctly that it was Border Policemen who used force against the respondents."
The Border Police responded: "The protesters against the fence construction knowingly break the law in entering a closed military zone, with their objective being to thwart the construction of the security fence. These cases are not about the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression, since the demonstrations in question are not authorized and illegal."
According to the Border Police, "in contrast to the claims of protesters that these are peaceful demonstrations, for two and a half years, almost daily, IDF soldiers and Border Police fighters have been contending with demonstrations characterized by serious violence, hurled rocks*** and Molotov cocktails that endanger the fighters' lives. In recent months, IDF soldiers and Border Police fighters have been severely and moderately wounded during demonstrations in Bil'in [...] The videotapes handed to the reporter are one-sided and do not reflect the complete picture and the violent conduct of the demonstrators. The police has tapes which in most of the cases proves precisely the opposite."
* From the English Haaretz.com online edition of the Israeli Daily Haaretz.
** Israelis participation is organized by the village comity together with the people of the Anarchists Against The Wall initiative and is joined by wider spectrum of Israelis.
*** In Bil'in Friday demonstrations I participate, the stone throwing - no rocks or Molotov cocktails, starts regularly by the youngsters ONLY AFTER the peaceful demonstrations are brutally dispersed by the Israeli state forces.