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Yassam Riot Police Officer Indicted on Brutality at Amona

Former Yassam riot police officer Mordechai Mehager has been indicted on charges of brutality during the 2006 expulsion of activists at Amona.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 2/29/2008, 11:38 AM

Former Yassam riot police officer Mordechai Mehager is facing a judge in the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to answer charges of brutality in the 2006 eviction of protestors prior to demolition of nine structures at the Samarian town of Amona.

Mordechai Mehager was indicted on three counts of grievous assault following an Internal Affairs investigation of his role in the unprovoked violence that bloodied at least 200 people, including two Knesset Members and more than 100 young activists.

Yishai Greenbaum, one of the young activists brutalized during the expulsion, filed charges against Mehager, saying he beat him with a club for two full minutes on his head, arms and leg – leaving him with a permanent disability.

The Yesha Human Rights Organization assisted Greenbaum in filing the suit, with attorney Chaim Cohen writing in the petition that "the accused – officer Mehager – exceeded the authority granted to him by law and police regulations, acting in an independent manner and exercising excessive force without justification."

Accusations by Mehager's lawyers that their client is being used as a political scapegoat by his superiors were countered in Greenbaum's petition. "Alternatively, if it turns out that the accused received 'orders from above,' then we are dealing with unacceptable orders whose implementation should have been refused."

A simultaneous Internal Affairs investigation resulted in a decision to indict Mehager as well.

State prosecutors refused to provide the former riot police officer with immunity and said if he was fined, he would have to pay the damages himself.

Mehager was indicted partly on the strength of video evidence provided by demonstrators who filmed him clubbing young protestors as they sat passively on the floor in one of the nine structures slated for demolition.

Mehager blamed his superiors, testifying "clear instructions were given [to riot police officers] that in any eventuality it would be necessary to use batons." He has filed suit against his former employers, Israel Police, saying he was "a victim of the prosecution and political interests on the one hand, and of the police on the other."

Collision Between Politics and Police Methodology
The overwhelming brutality of that day marked a turning point in the way the government has since approached the issue of dismantling unauthorized outposts.

The hilltop community of Amona, one of the oldest communities in Samaria, was established by 30 families in 1995. It was built on the hill that overlooks the nearby town of Ofra.

The town was hooked up to the national electricity grid – a move which requires approval by the Defense Ministry – by 2003. Today there are approximately 45 families living there.

Nine unfinished structures, intended to become homes in a new neighborhood on the outskirts of Amona, became the flashpoint in the conflict between the government and residents for Jewish rights in Judea and Samaria.

The decision to demolish the new neighborhood was made at the time by then-Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to placate U.S. and Palestinian Authority leaders by demonstrating his willingness to freeze construction and destroy "illegal outposts" in Judea and Samaria.

Passive Resistance Met with Police Brutality
More than 2,000 Yassam riot police and mounted officers had spent a week preparing for a showdown on the appointed day of eviction. Several hundred activists were prepared as well, with many packed tightly into the structures in a passive protest geared to keep things calm.

Others waited outside, gathering cinder blocks and other items with which they hoped to block bulldozers and other efforts to carry out the demolition.

Events quickly spiraled out of control.

A number of other club-swinging police officers and at least one mounted police officer have been indicted for their role in the violence.

Mounted police officer David Edry was charged with trampling at least one protestor beneath the hooves of his horse.

An army driver who happened upon the scene, Ibrahim Sharif decided to join the action, borrowed an officer's club and started swinging, beating activists in the head and elsewhere on their bodies.

The Yesha organization said there are been many more active civil cases against violent police officers who were involved in the brutality than there have been Internal Affairs investigations.