What appeared to be a major police bust of a “youth gang” that organized in order to attack Arabs in Jerusalem, was demoted Sunday afternoon by a Jerusalem court to an investigation into what may be no more than random acts of harassment by bored kids, after the court ordered the prime suspect in the case released to house arrest.
Police had held the sixteen-and-a-half year old youth in custody for nearly a week, having requested an extend of his remand twice. In addition, police arrested associates of the youth, some of whom are still being held.
Earlier Sunday, police held a press conference in which they announced that they had arrested a “gang” of Jewish youths who had organized in order to attack Arab residents of Jerusalem. According to police, the gang acted on a regular basis, increasing their attacks after terror attacks by Arabs against Israelis. Police said that the gang had slashed tires, set fire to cars, threatened individuals, thrown rocks, and gone on an organized harassment campaign against Arabs in Jerusalem.
But despite the grand announcement, evidence was apparently somewhat thin, and the youth's attorney – Itamar Ben Gvir, representing the youth on behalf of the Honenu legal rights organization – convinced the court that the case was far from the open and shut one police claimed it was, and that putting together a case against the youth would probably take a long time. The court agreed, and released the prime suspect to house arrest.
“In order to finish this investigation police are going to need a lot of time,” Ben Gvir told the court. “The youth in question has no record and has never been arrested. He would have to remain in detention for a long time if police plan to keep him in custody until the end of the investigation,” he added.
Speaking after the hearing, Ben Gvir said that police had outsmarted themselves in this instance. “According to what prosecutors said, they could have indicted this youth last week, but police requested more time to investigate, arrest more suspects and connect the alleged gang to more crimes. All the while, the youth was sitting in prison, trying to tell police that the story of the gang attack was nonsense. I am very happy that the court cut off the excessive 'credit limit' police kept trying to raise in this case.”
Several other suspects who were arrested, however, did admit to police that they were part of a “gang,” but Ben Gvir said he was not overly concerned. “It's likely that those admissions will be thrown out of court because police overstepped their bounds, setting one minor against another in order to intimidate them into making confessions. Police are going to have to explain to the court why they questioned youths at night, without their lawyers present, and without informing their parents – all violations of the laws on how police must treat minors,” he added.
There have been many similar incidents in recent years of jumping to quick conclusions about the guilt accused of harassment and vandalism against Arabs. In the majority of these cases, the youths are released and charges eventually dropped for lack of evidence. Police did not comment on Sunday's release by the court of their suspect.