Violent Amona Border Guard Finally to Go to Trial
A legal saga that has been ongoing for over five years may be coming to an end, as the Internal Affairs Unit of the Israel Police announced last week that it would reopen the case against Amir Fares, the Border Guard officer who beat Menachem Lev, the director of the Education Department in the Beit El local authority, during the demolition of homes in Amona in 2006.
Fares has consistently denied beating Lev, but video and photos prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was indeed him that beat Lev and others numerous times using a club and other weapons. And after years of stonewalling by police – and the initial exoneration of Fares by police investigators – justice may finally be on the way, says the Yesha Human Rights organization, which has been working with Lev and seeking to force Fares to own up to his actions from the beginning.
Lev was at Amona on that fateful day – February 1, 2006 – not only to protest the demolition of nine homes owned by Jews, but to try and calm what was a very tense situation. But he quickly found himself being attacked by border guards, led by Fares, who continually beat him until he could no longer stand – and then beat him some more, causing him serious injuries, to the extent that he could not function normally for long weeks after he was beaten.
Lev had managed to record Fares' details, and when he had recovered somewhat, filed a complaint with Internal Affairs, which promptly invited Fares in for questioning. However, Fares, answering questions “on the record,” claimed that he could not have been the culprit – because as soon as he had arrived in Amona, he said, protesters threw two large bricks at him, basically disabling his left arm, and forcing him to sit on the sidelines while his fellow officers broke up the protest.
Lev, however, had provided physical evidence of his claims – a video that clearly shows Fares beating him with both hands, without any seeming impediment or problem. For some unknown reason, the investigator ignored this evidence, exonerating Fares. The case was, seemingly, closed.
Lev, however, persevered, appealing the decision. At this point, he asked for help from the Yesha Human Rights organization, which decided to take on the case, appointing Attorney Haim Cohen to represent him. Investigations by the organization yielded a cache of photos that confirmed what the video showed – that Fares had not been beaten and had full use of both hands and arms that morning, and that he was taking full advantage of his good physical condition to beat Lev.
The case was transferred on appeal to the state attorney's office, where it was declared closed by none other than Shai Nitzan, known for his hostility to residents of Yesha. Despite the evidence, Nitzan said that he could find “nothing in the conduct of the original investigation that would require our intervention.” Once again, Fares was scot-free.
And again, Lev demanded justice; if he could not get it from the police and the Stae Attorney, he reasoned, he could try to get it from the civil courts. And so, Lev, via Cohen, filed a lawsuit against Fares and the Israel Police for damages incurred in the beatings. But there was a wrinkle in that plan; the State Attorney decided to give Fares immunity, thus again closing the door to any legal action against him.
Cohen demanded an immediate removal of the immunity, again proving his case with the physical evidence, asking the court if it was possible “to impose immunity in a case where at best the initial investigation by Internal Affairs was done sloppily, and possibly even because of an agenda to exonerate this officer – despite the evidence?”
During the hearing on Fares' immunity, it emerged that the official in the State Attorney's office who decided to grant Fares immunity had been unaware of the existence of the incriminating video and photos. But the official was unconvinced even after viewing the video, claiming that Lev's only concern was “to harass public officials.” The court, however, was more convinced by the evidence than by the official's claim, and gave the State Attorney's office a week to reconsider its stance – which it did, removing Fares' immunity and opening the way for the civil suit.
Forced to finally confront Lev, Fares maintained his innocence, continuing to claim that “his arm was hurt.” Unlike during the Internal Affairs investigation, however, this time the court considered the evidence – and Fares, true to form, continued to deny his involvement in the incident, telling the court repeatedly that he was “unable to identify himself” in either the photos or the video. In one especially dramatic moment during the trial – on Sukkot eve last year – the judge hearing the case pressed Fares repeatedly on the video and photos, with the latter alternately refusing to answer questions and denying his involvement. At one point, Fares just up and left – without the court's permission – and refused to return. Just a few days later, the court rendered its decision – awarding Lev NIS 28,000.
So far, however, that money has not been paid – to the disappointment of Lev and Cohen. In addition, the Internal Affairs unit stubbornly continued to refuse to reopen the case against Fares. Fed up, Cohen filed a petition with the Attorney General – and the pressure seems to have paid off. Last week, Internal Affairs announced that it would reopen the investigation against Fares for his actions at Amona – and in addition, investigate him for the lies he told during the initial investigation and in the civil case.
It was a long road, but it seems that justice will finally be done. With that, the Yesha Human Rights organization is not opening any champagne just yet. “A disciplinary hearing, which we understand Fares is to undergo, could end with just a warning or a mark on his record. We will remain on guard,” an official with the organization said. “The most difficult thing about this case,” the official continued, “was not uncovering the evidence, which was there for everyone to see – it was to convince the authorities to pay attention to the evidence.”