Knesset Hears Testimony of Police Brutality, Sexual Harassment

Testimony at the Special Knesset Committee's second session on the Amona clash exposed more police brutality and incitement, including throwing rocks at protestors, and even sexual harassment.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 15:41

Witnesses were brought before the investigative committee to determine the causes of extreme inter-Jewish violence in the small Jewish community of Amona. The hilltop community of just over twenty families is a satellite of the large suburb Ofrah, located in the disputed Israeli territories just north of Jerusalem.

On February 1st, over 1,000 specially trained police clashed with hundreds of protesters in Amona prior to the demolition of nine unauthorized houses. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued the orders to destroy the homes, refusing numerous compromises offered by regional and local community leaders to spare or move the uninhabited houses.

Forces that arrived on the scene to disperse the activists ahead of the demolitions arrested approximately three dozen protestors, while over 325 were treated by medics for sustained injuries, with over 60 individuals evacuated to Jerusalem hospitals. Two severely injured victims were taken to the hospital by Medi-vac choppers.

Of those beaten by police forces, scores suffered multiple head wounds from poundings they received by police batons. Others suffered broken ribs, limbs, and jaws. Israeli Knesset Members Aryeh Eldad and Effie Eitam (National Union) sustained a broken arm and a head wound, respectively, at the hands of police.

Orit Strook, head of the Yesha Civil Rights Organization, presented a ten-minute video collection of police brutality at the investigative committee's fact-finding session, Tuesday. Policemen were seen beating youths and photographers - including those who appear to be obeying police orders to leave the scene. Horse-tramplings and random beatings were also caught on tape.

The film also showed policemen not wearing their mandatory ID tags, as well as one Border Guard policeman actually wearing a mask. In addition, a voice-over read aloud the police guidelines that women should evacuate women in a modest manner - while male policemen were shown removing young girls in the opposite fashion.

Click Here [or on the above graphic] to see the Arutz-7 exclusive English-language version of the documentary shown to the Knesset committee.

One Knesset witness, Anat Roth said she saw policemen initiating violence by throwing rocks at protestors, in addition to threatening them in a variety of ways.

Roth recounted how the pre-evacuation preparations for the confrontation among the protestors was of a totally non-violent nature. "They were instructed over and over that the nature of the struggle would be non-violent and merely passive," she said. A briefing given to girls at the protest noted that the gravest scenario that could be expected would be that men might forcibly remove them from the homes.

Roth recalled when Rabbi Chaim Sultan told many of his female students who were present at the protest, that whoever did not want to be taken out by men should not take part. "No one even imagined that the events would deteriorate to the level of violence that actually occurred," Roth said.

Describing the actual evacuation and accompanying police violence, Roth said, "I saw settlers who were scared of the horses and the police aggression. Yesha Council leaders such as Adi Mintz looked for a police commander, but there was no one to talk to. There was just terrible hatred on the part of the policemen... I saw police throwing rocks at youths standing on the roofs, and it was those rocks that the demonstrators threw back."

"One policeman who saw me filming the events hit me in the head," said Roth. "He would have hit me again, but Ze'ev Chever [the Yesha Council leader known as Zambish] stopped him."

Roth was present at Amona during the clash, as well as on the previous day. Roth was in Amona to study the Yesha council (the regional council for Judea and Samaria). Previously, Roth served as an assistant to Labor Party MKs, including committee member Matan Vilnai.

Also, among those who testified about the violence they themselves suffered was Yitzchak Bar-Tov, a paramedic who was beaten by police as he administered medical treatment to the wounded.

"I did not have a paramedic's uniform, and so I kept on yelling that I was a paramedic," Bar-Tov said. "I saw a horse trample an older man, and I tried to help him. I saw them beating children and youths... I asked, 'Who's the commander here?' and in response, he said, 'I am Elijah the Prophet,' and he hit me...

"I asked someone who looked like a commander if he planned to stop his men, and he drew a line on the ground and said, 'If you cross over this line [to treat the wounded], I'm not responsible.' ..."

Following the destruction of the houses, Bar-Tov continued, "Some of the boys taunted the police and said things like, 'You're not real men,' and 'What will be your battle legacy?' In response, the policemen stormed them with violence.

"I saw a man who looked like he was their commander, standing with his arms folded and watching them. I told him that they were violating the law by acting in this way in response to mere taunts. I said to him, 'The incident is over, what are you still doing here? Leave!' Only this persuaded the commander to gather his men and leave."

Yaakov Tessler, a teen-aged yeshiva student from Jerusalem, said that he and his friends were reminded over and over, by their rabbis and others, not to behave with violence but merely to resist passively.

Tessler said, "I was in a house where policemen were hitting with their clubs without any provocation by the demonstrators. We were afraid that the police would use tear gas, and therefore we prepared bottles of water beforehand. This was the only 'threatening' thing that we brought into the house...

"Once we were in the houses, we had no one to brief or guide us; the public address system was silenced. [Another witness had testified that he saw a policeman detaching the wires - ed.] We had been told to wait until they came to remove us. From the window, we saw terrible sights - policemen beating girls who had done nothing and throwing them to the ground. Outside the house, there was a Yassam [special unit] policeman who hit with his club everyone who came out. After they left, they were hit! We saw this from inside and we became very frightened."

Tessler recounted how he saw a group of Yassam policemen organizing large stones, and then, in a coordinated manner, throwing them at the youths on one of the roofs. He further said that he saw policemen drag and beat a boy who cried that he was hurt and couldn't move.

Asked by Labor MK Matan Vilnai and Shinui MK Ilan Shalgi why he took off from school to take part in this event, Tessler responded, "I came because of a deep inner feeling that I had not done enough in the struggle for Gush Katif. I felt a need to protest my pain against the fact that Jews are destroying Jewish homes in the Land of Israel."

An IDF officer who was present at the clash David Weiner, testified that he had been at many Arab riots during his army days, "but I never before saw the police behave the way they did at Amona." He described how the police lined up with clubs opposite protestors who had decided not to resist actively.

"I thought the police were going to bring the water cannons close to the houses as a form of deterrence, and this would have calmed things down - but they preferred to use actual force instead... I received a report beforehand from an IDF Lt.-Col. who warned me that the police were planning to use unprecedented force... The police did not give any public warnings about how much time the protestors had to get out; the only public orders were to the police."

The most shocking testimony was given by Nogah Cohen, a Binyamin Region social worker who described incidents of sexual harassment and attacks by policemen.

"Because of the nature of the incidents, we received reports and testimony about them only a little at a time," Cohen said. "Because of the girls' sensitivity and modesty, only one girl so far has talked openly about exactly what happened to her."

Cohen specifically mentioned a case of a girl dragged to the side by two policemen who began molesting her and were stopped only by a youth who saw what was happening and hit them himself. "This was reported in B'Sheva newspaper," she said, "and we investigated the case and found it to be totally true."

MK Matan Vilnai was angered by her testimony, saying that it was illogical and appeared to have been "tailored" by the Yesha Council.

Several Yesha Council leaders and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz later testified about the attempts to reach a compromise before the evacuation and the refusal of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to agree.

Testimony will continue to be brought before the investigative committee over the next several days and weeks. Primary members of the committee are Chairman Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), Uri Ariel (National Union), Ilan Shalgi (Shinui), and Matan Vilnai (Labor).