Justice Ministry delays investigation into police shooting of Arab youth

I’lam, the only media centre for the Arab minority in Israel, issues a monthly “Alternative News Briefing” to journalists and others interested in the region as a corrective to the distorted coverage of events affecting Israel’s Arab citizens by the Israeli media. The following article was taken from Alternative News Briefing No. 20.

Also in this Briefing

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  • OPINION: No excuse for silence over travel ban on journalist Anton Shalhat
  • MEDIA WATCH: Israeli media turns a blind eye to facts contained in national poverty report

    Nadim Melham was shot dead in unclear circumstances by the Israeli police at his home in the Arab village of Arara in northern Israel on January 19.

    Police say they broke into the Melham family’s home after a tip-off that the youth was a drug dealer and had a stash of guns. They claim he tried to escape and, when cornered, pulled out a gun and cocked the trigger. He was shot in the chest by officers defending themselves, say police.

    The family, however, say Melham was sleeping in his room when the police broke in and that he was shot in cold blood. One relative alleges that the police had been trying to recruit Melham as an informer for some time and that he had angered officers by repeatedely refusing to cooperate.

    Arab leaders have been demanding that the incident be properly investigated to determine the circumstances of the killing. In the five years since the outbreak of the intifada, 19 Arab citizens have been killed by the security services in mysterious circumstances: 14 by the police and five by the army.

    Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh, said at the scene of the shooting: “The police once again showed that they have a light trigger finger when it comes to the Arab public. They still, unfortunately, treat the Arab public as a hostile public.”

    He was referring to a report by the Or Commission published in September 2003 which investigated the killing by the police of 12 unarmed Arab citizens and a labourer from Gaza during protests in northern Israel at the start of the intifada. After hearing evidence that anti-terror sniper units had been brought to the Galilee, Justice Or urged the police command to “instil in its people that the Arab public is not an enemy and should not be treated as an enemy”.

    The successful outcome of such an inquiry will depend on the work of investigators in a department known as Mahash, or Police Investigations Department, in the Justice Ministry. However, there are widespead fears that Mahash does not take its duties seriously when investigating incidents involving the killing of Arab citizens.

    The Or Commission heard that after the 13 Arab deaths at the start of the intifada Mahash failed to carry out investigations for many days, and then only in a few cases. Even faced with recommendations from the Or Commission that two policemen be charged over three of the 13 deaths, Mahash refused to prosecute.

    Similarly, Mahash has either failed to investigate or closed the files prematurely on the more recent, unexplained Arab deaths. In this latest case, Mahash investigators failed to collect evidence from the scene of Melham’s shooting for at least the first two days.

    The number of recent killings of Arab citizens by police, and the Justice Ministry’s silence over them, led the Haaretz newspaper to observe: “This high number has escaped public attention, and it is doubtful that it would have been accepted with similar equanimity if the victims had been Jews.”

    Contact Adalah on 04 950 1610

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