Israeli police targeted Palestinians with discriminatory arrests, torture and unlawful force

  • Sweeping arrests targeting Palestinian activists
  • Unlawful use of force against Palestinian protesters
  • Torture of Palestinian detainees
  • Failure to protect Palestinians from planned attacks by groups of Jewish supremacists

Israeli police have committed a catalogue of violations against Palestinians in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem, carrying out a discriminatory repressive campaign including sweeping mass arrests, using unlawful force against peaceful protesters, and subjecting detainees to torture and other ill-treatment, during and after the armed hostilities in Israel and Gaza, Amnesty International said today.

Israeli police have also failed to protect Palestinian citizens of Israel from premeditated attacks by groups of armed Jewish supremacists, even when plans were publicized in advance and police knew or should have known of them.

“The evidence gathered by Amnesty International paints a damning picture of discrimination and ruthless excessive force by Israeli police against Palestinians in Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“Police have an obligation to protect all people under Israel’s control, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian. Instead, the vast majority arrested in the police crackdown following the outbreak of intercommunal violence were Palestinian. The few Jewish citizens of Israel arrested were dealt with more leniently. Jewish supremacists also continue to organize demonstrations while Palestinians face repression.”

Amnesty International researchers spoke to 11 witnesses and its Crisis Evidence Lab verified 45 videos and other forms of digital media to document more than 20 cases of Israeli police violations between 9 May and 12 June 2021. Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in the crackdown and a 17-year-old boy was shot dead.

Discriminatory crackdown

From 10 May, as demonstrations spread to towns with Palestinian populations inside Israel, intercommunal violence broke out. Scores were injured, and two Jewish citizens of Israel and one Palestinian citizen were killed. Synagogues and Muslim cemeteries were vandalized. In Haifa, 90 cars owned by Palestinians were destroyed on 13 May and rocks were thrown at Palestinians in their homes. In East Jerusalem Israeli settlers continued to violently harass Palestinian residents.

In response on 24 May, Israeli authorities launched “Operation Law and Order” primarily targeting Palestinian protesters. Israeli media said the operation aimed to “settle scores” with those involved and to “deter” further demonstrations.  

According to Mossawa, a Palestinian human rights group, by 10 June, police arrested more than 2,150 people – more than 90% of them Palestinian citizens of Israel or residents of East Jerusalem. The group also said 184 indictments were filed against 285 defendants. According to Adalah, another human rights group, a representative of the State Attorney’s Office said on 27 May that only 30 Jewish citizens of Israel were among those indicted.

Most Palestinians arrested were detained for offences such as “insulting or assaulting a police officer” or “taking part in an illegal gathering” rather than for violent attacks on people or property, according to the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel.

“This discriminatory crackdown was orchestrated as an act of retaliation and intimidation to crush pro-Palestinian demonstrations and silence those who speak out to condemn Israel’s institutionalized discrimination and systemic oppression of Palestinians,” said Saleh Higazi.

Unlawful use of force against demonstrators

Amnesty International has documented unnecessary and excessive force used by Israeli police to disperse Palestinian protests against forced evictions in East Jerusalem as well as against the Gaza offensive. The protests were mostly peaceful though a minority attacked police property and threw stones. In contrast, Jewish supremacists continue to organize demonstrations freely. On 15 June, thousands of Jewish settlers and supremacists marched provocatively through Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem.

Witness accounts and verified videos confirm that at a 9 May protest in the German Colony neighbourhood of Haifa, northern Israel, a group of around 50 protesters were peacefully protesting when armed police attacked them, unprovoked, beating some of them.   

On 12 May, Muhammad Mahmoud Kiwan, a 17-year-old boy, was shot in the head near Umm el-Fahem, northern Israel, and died a week later. Eyewitnesses said he was sitting in a car near a protest when Israeli police shot him. The police dispute the claim and said they were investigating.   

On the same day, police officers violently dispersed a peaceful protest of around 40 people in St Mary’s Well Square in Nazareth, northern Israel, without warning, physically assaulting protesters.

“Israeli police should be protecting the right to freedom of assembly, not launching attacks against peaceful demonstrators. The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry set up in May 2021 must investigate the alarming pattern of violations by Israeli police,” said Saleh Higazi.

Israeli police have also used unlawful force in occupied East Jerusalem. On 18 May, police shot 15-year-old Jana Kiswani in the back as she entered her home in Sheikh Jarrah. A protest had taken place a few hours earlier in front of their house. Her father, Muhammad, told Amnesty International that her vertebrae were shattered and that doctors do not know if she will walk again. Verified video footage shows Jana Kiswani falling to the ground as she is shot from behind. Another verified video shows an Israeli police officer casually firing a Stand Alone IWI GL 40 grenade launcher at a person off-screen, followed by screaming.  

Police violence, torture and other ill-treatment

Ibrahim Souri was shot in the face by Israeli police officers while using his mobile phone to film police patrolling the street from the balcony of his home in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, on 12 May.

In a verified video, one of the police officers is heard saying: “What is he holding?” Ibrahim Souri shouts in response: “I’m filming, isn’t that permitted? Shoot, it’s all recorded.” He later told Amnesty International: “I did not imagine that they would actually shoot. I thought I had rights, and that I was safe, in a democratic country.” Photographs reviewed by Amnesty International’s forensic pathologist and medical reports indicate he was most likely hit by a 40mm KIP, fracturing his facial bones.

Amnesty International also documented torture at the Russian Compound (Moskobiya) police station in Nazareth on 12 May. An eyewitness said they saw special forces beating a group of at least eight bound detainees who had been arrested at a protest:

“It was like a brutal prisoner of war camp. The officers were hitting the young men with broomsticks and kicking them with steel-capped boots. Four of them had to be taken away by ambulance, and one had a broken arm,” he said.

The lawyer of Ziyad Taha another protester detained at Kishon detention centre near Haifa on 14 May, said his client was tied by his wrists and ankles to a chair and deprived of sleep for nine days.

Failure to protect Palestinians from Jewish supremacist attacks

Police also failed to protect Palestinians from organized attacks by groups of armed Jewish supremacists, whose plans were often publicized in advance. 

Amnesty International verified 29 text and audio messages from open Telegram channels and WhatsApp, revealing how the apps were used to recruit armed men and organize attacks on Palestinians in cities with Jewish and Arab populations, such as Haifa, Acre, Nazareth, and Lod between 10 and 21 May.                                 

Messages included instructions on where and when to gather, types of weaponry to use and even clothing to wear to avoid confusing Jews of Middle Eastern heritage with Palestinian Arabs. Group members shared selfies posing with guns and messages such as: “Tonight we are not Jews, we are Nazis”.

On 12 May, hundreds of Jewish supremacists gathered on the Bat Yam Promenade, central Israel in response to messages received from political party Jewish Power and other groups. Verified video footage shows scores of activists attacking Arab-owned businesses and encouraging attackers. One of those beaten was Said Musa who was also run over with a scooter by Jewish attackers. Only six Israelis are facing prosecution over the attack.

Politicians and government officials have also incited violence. On 11 May riots broke out after Itamar Ben-Gvir, parliamentary representative for the Jewish Power party, rallied supporters to come to Lod and other towns and called for stone-throwers to be shot.

A day earlier, Musa Hassuna was shot dead by a Jewish citizen of Israel in Lod during intercommunal violence. A video shows him being shot while he was near a group of Palestinians throwing rocks. His father blamed the town’s mayor, Yair Revivo, for “calling up extremists to do this thuggery” in reference to a statement in which the mayor described events in Lod as a pogrom on Jews. Four suspects were arrested over the killing but released on bail three days later. Israel’s Minister for Public Security, Amir Ohana openly condemned the arrests, calling them “terrible”.

In an illustration of discrimination, Kamal al-Khatib, deputy leader of the Northern Islamist Movement, was arrested on 14 May and charged with incitement to violence and supporting a terrorist organization over public comments in which he expressed pride at solidarity with people in Gaza and East Jerusalem and said changes to the status of Jerusalem’s holy sites have led to violence between Palestinians and Jews.

“The repeated failure of Israeli police to protect Palestinians from organized attacks by groups of armed Jewish supremacists and lack of accountability for such attacks is shameful and shows the authorities’ disregard for Palestinian life” Molly Malekar, Director of Amnesty Israel.

“The fact that Jewish citizens of Israel, including prominent figures, have been allowed to openly incite violence against Palestinians without being held accountable highlights the extent of institutionalized discrimination faced by Palestinians and the urgent need for protection.”

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