Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Policeman Pulls Man’s Peyos

If the incident hadn’t been caught on camera, there is no doubt that the police would have gone on issuing their usual denials: The victim had been throwing rocks, and he was injured while resisting arrest. The story would have then been enhanced, and the victim would have been accused of striking the police officers while resisting arrest. The police would have asked the court to extend his remand for several days—even though there had been no basis for the arrest in the first place—and the judge would have approved it. Most of the judges in the Shalom Court serve as rubber stamps for every request from the police to prolong a detention. When the police are aware that their case is shaky, there are certain judges whom they prefer to rule on their requests, secure in the knowledge that those judges will always take their side—mainly those who began their careers with the prosecution. These stories generally end with an indictment filed against the chareidi who was detained.

That is precisely what would have happened to Rabbi Yehoshua Mordechai Kreuzer of Beit Shemesh. Kreuzer was leaning on a commercial vehicle in the parking lot of his apartment building and watching the police help a group of municipal workers demolish an “illegal” shul. Another man was standing beside him, and a group of police officers asked them to move. The reason for their request is not clear; it was not evident why the men should have been prohibited to stand there. In any event, Kreuzer began moving away at a pace that was too slow for the police officers, who began pushing him away from the spot.

A Blow to Their Image

Actually, “pushing” is far too mild a term for what happened. The police officers on the scene began beating him viciously, and Kreuzer was shocked. He could not understand what he had done to merit such treatment. He tried to defend himself against the blows, but that only served to fuel the rage of the policemen. This, in fact, is their modus operandi when they apprehend an ordinary citizen: They deliver a powerful kick to the person’s legs, causing him to fall to the ground, and then they pounce on him and handcuff him. This is what happened to Kreuzer, who was then dragged into a police car by no less than four police officers, who continued pummeling him, and then he was hauled away to jail. The barbarity of their actions reached its height when one of the officers pulled his peyos with such force that they nearly became detached from his head.

What the police did not suspect throughout the incident was that their actions were being recorded. From the moment they first attacked Kreuzer until he was placed in their car, someone was capturing the incident on video from an upper story window in the apartment building. With the entire sequence of events, from beginning to end, caught on camera, the police did not even have the ability to lie about what had happened during interruptions in the recording.

Kreuzer was arrested and brought to court, where the police requested an extension of his remand. Soon enough, the first video was publicized, in which officers were seen attacking him without the slightest provocation. But not only do the police have twisted minds, their imaginations work feverishly as well; they claimed that Kreuzer had been throwing stones before the video began. The judge did not accept their argument and granted only a very slight extension of Kreuzer’s remand.

Meanwhile, another video came to light, serving as an even more devastating blow to the police. This video showed a police officer with a shaved head pulling the peyos of Kreuzer, a religious Jew, with all his might. That image was simply too much to bear, and the police understood that they were in trouble. At that point, their response to the situation changed, and they announced that the issue had been referred to the Internal Investigations Department and that the officer in question had been suspended.

The next day, their story changed: Instead of claiming that the officer was suspended, they announced that he was recuperating at home. After all, this was the same officer who was reported to have a broken leg. At first, they claimed that the “suspect” had broken the officer’s leg, although the video footage showed that when Kreuzer was knocked to the ground, the police officer fell along with him, and Kreuzer, along with several other policemen, fell on top of him. In other words, the policeman’s injury was the result of his own actions. Once they had changed their story, the police did not explain why the officer was not suspended from his job.

Minister Gilad Erdan, who always ingratiates himself with everyone—with chareidim, Ethiopians, and right-wing activists alike, but with the police above all—declared firmly on Tuesday night, “A police officer who commits acts of violence has no place within the ranks of the police force.” At the same time, he emphasized that the officer was also entitled to a presumption of innocence. It seems obvious, though, that there is no doubt as to the police officer’s culpability, which leads to a simple question: If there is no place for brutality in the police force, why is this violent officer still a member of the force?

Just a month ago, I wrote two articles about the phenomenon of police brutality against chareidim. In the second, I wrote that the police always make sure that there are no cameras in their vicinity, and then they beat their victims. I am not a novi, but I do have plenty of experience with police brutality, and I can attest with certainty that this is true. Now, just a few weeks later, the subject has come to the fore.

A Slap on the Wrist for Police Brutality

With incredible serendipity, the disciplinary court of the police force publicized two of its verdicts this past Tuesday. These verdicts bespeak the intolerably frivolous attitude of the police force itself toward police brutality. In the two cases, two officers convicted of assaulting ordinary citizens received punishments that can only be described as encouraging further violence: One of the officers was fined 1,000 NIS, while the other was fined only 750 NIS. In both cases, the sentences were the result of agreements reached between the officers’ lawyers and investigators of the Internal Investigations Department, which means that these laughable penalties were approved by officials in the highest echelons of the police force. Even if there were good reasons for it, such as a low probability that the officers would actually be convicted if they did not plead guilty and the case reached the court, or the fact that the officers had heretofore clean records, the fact remains that these punishments, which amount to a slap on the wrist, did nothing to deter other policemen from acts of violence. If anything, they only served to encourage further brutality.

One of the officers had slammed the head of a prisoner into a cabinet in the police station twice, and had struck him with a metal hook. The officer explained that the prisoner had antagonized him by shouting and cursing in his jail cell. The prisoner explained that he had done that after watching another prisoner take his own life. The judges in the disciplinary court had an “explanation,” if one can call it that, for their decision: The officer’s spotless record and periodic commendations from his superiors warranted leniency in this case. Those commanders, incidentally, almost always give their backing to officers under suspicion, and do everything in their power to prevent them from being convicted on criminal charges. By doing that, they save themselves from the stigma of being the commanders of police officers who are guilty of brutality, shielding themselves from being criticized for allowing men who are no better than common criminals to wear the uniforms of the police force.

In the second case, the officer had struck a citizen several times. The victim had provoked the assault by cursing the policeman, who was stationed at a checkpoint, but while cursing is reprehensible and loathsome, it is a criminal offense to physically assault anyone. The fact that the crime was committed by a police officer, whose duty is to uphold the law, makes it far worse. Yet the policeman was fined only 1,000 shekels, a small penalty that the court explained was based on his “personal circumstances.”

These two incidents came to light as part of the disciplinary court’s annual public report. And these are not the only such cases, although they are certainly the most noteworthy instances. In another case, a police officer who had given false testimony to the Internal Investigations Department (to protect a colleague who had hit a prisoner and was later prosecuted) was punished with a reduction in rank. If an ordinary citizen had committed the same act, he would have been charged with a crime and, in all likelihood, sent to prison.

These incidents teach us that the police have not internalized the severity of using violence against ordinary citizens. On the contrary, the disciplinary court has only encouraged it, by handing out the mildest possible penalties. After all, what reason could a policeman have to refrain from hitting a citizen? And why shouldn’t he lie about it afterward? He will certainly receive the backing of the police force, and even in the worst-case scenario where he is brought to court if an incriminating video of the incident suddenly surfaces, he will receive a very light sentence.

Trampling on a Prisoner’s Religious Rights

With my intimate familiarity with their work, especially their use of parliamentary queries and motions for the agenda in the Knesset, I can say that one of the issues closest to the hearts of the chareidi MKs is the plight of the ordinary citizens, most of whom are chareidim, who have been victims of police brutality, as well as prisoners—again, mostly chareidim—who have suffered abuse in prison. And while many of the victims are chareidim, their concern extends beyond the chareidi victims to the general populace.

This week, I conducted some research in the database known as Sanhedrin, which is the most authoritative, reliable, and up-to-date source of information (unlike certain other databases, where the investigators tend to place misleading information). In order to collect an appropriate sampling of cases, I searched for all the parliamentary queries submitted by two particular MKs during the period of the 20th Knesset. Sure enough, quite a few dealt with protecting a citizen from abuse at the hands of the police or Prison Service.

One of those queries was entitled, “A Religious Youth Detained by the Shin Bet Was Forced to Violate Shabbos and Was Prevented from Wearing Tefillin.” The query begins, “Judge Michal Brant, upon rejecting the confessions of the minor Z., who was suspected of arson at a church, wrote in her ruling, ‘The Shin Bet’s conduct with regard to the suspect’s religious rights was also inappropriate. They did not allow him to observe Shabbos properly, and they prevented him from wearing tefillin for two consecutive days. I will emphasize that the right to wear tefillin, like all religious rights, should not be taken lightly. The state must do everything in its power to ensure that a suspect in detention, who is subject to its mercy, will have the ability to fulfill his religious obligations.’”

After that introduction, the following questions were directed to the Minister of Internal Security: “Is it true that the interrogators of the Shin Bet or those under their supervision caused the suspect to violate Shabbos? If so, what were the circumstances, and what was he forced to do on Shabbos? Was he truly prevented from wearing tefillin? Was this incident investigated? What were the conclusions of the inquiry, and what decisions were made regarding the future?” The deadline for a response to these questions was February 28, 2019. As of now, no response has been received.

Another parliamentary query bore the title, “Police Officers Fabricate Complaints of Violence by Citizens; Internal Investigations Department and Prosecution Whitewash Claims of Phony Complaints.” Here, the introduction reads, “The Audit Commissioner of the Prosecution has determined that police officers accused of violence against civilians have fabricated complaints of their own against those civilians, claiming that they themselves were assaulted. He maintains that the Internal Investigations Department and the prosecution deliberately blocked an inquiry into the fabrication of such a complaint.” The MK asked, “Will there be an inquiry into this method that has been used by police officers accused of violence? Will the apparent cover up be investigated?” According to Knesset regulations, a response to these questions should have been received by the beginning of January 2019. But these questions, too, have gone unanswered.

The Vicious Beating of a Chareidi Youth

A different parliamentary query, from Iyar 5778/April 2018, did receive a response. This query, which bore the title “Sixteen-Year-Old Chareidi Detainee Beaten in an Interrogation Room,” began with the following account: “Meir Greenfeld, a 15-year-old chareidi boy, was arrested at the beginning of this week, on the 22nd or 23rd of April, after taking part in a demonstration in Meah Shearim, disturbing the public, and possibly assaulting police officers. He was released the following day, but claimed that during his interrogation in the Russian Compound, he exercised his right to silence, and in response the police officers beat him severely. It is reasonable to assume that as a member of the Eidah Chareidis community, he will not submit an official complaint against the police officers; however, that should not prevent the police from looking into his claims. As much as we abhor and disavow the violent protests that cause damage to the greater chareidi populace, it is still necessary for the officers of law enforcement to uphold the law themselves.”

Once again, this was followed by questions directed to the minister: “Will you agree to order an inquiry into whether Meir Greenfeld was beaten in the interrogation room in Yerushalayim? Will this incident be examined by the police, or will you or the police refer the case to the Internal Investigations Department? Do you consider the detainee’s failure to complain to be sufficient justification to ignore these serious allegations?”

This query was submitted by a chareidi MK. I should note that the extremists of Yerushalayim regularly subject the chareidi Knesset members to blistering criticism, including many bizarre and utterly false accusations. But that does not prevent the chareidi political leadership from using parliamentary queries to defend the rights of the protestors in Meah Shearim.

The Internal Security Minister’s answer to this query was due in May 2018, yet the response was received only in November 2018. On the surface, his answer sounds commendable: “Based on the information I received from the Israel Police Force, the suspect was a minor and the case is still under investigation. Therefore, according to the law and for the sake of protecting the privacy of a minor and the right of an individual to privacy, it is not possible to divulge all the details of the incident.

“I was informed that the minor was arrested and brought in for interrogation at the Lev Habirah police station after he participated in violent disruptions of the public order and blocked a thoroughfare. The police force is required by law to report any incidents of police brutality brought to its attention to the Police Internal Investigations Department, which is a part of the Ministry of Justice. However, I was told that in light of the fact that neither the minor nor anyone else submitted a complaint about the use of violence against him, as you related, nor was there any indication of it, the incident was not referred to the Internal Investigations Department for review, and therefore was not investigated. Nevertheless, despite the above, and beyond the requirements of the law, I have been told that the contents of this parliamentary query, along with this response, will be transferred to the Internal Investigations Department to be handled as they see fit.”

As much as this appears to be an appropriate response, it is also wrong. Is it really true that the Internal Investigations Department doesn’t launch an investigation unless someone files a complaint? Absolutely not: If a police officer commits a crime, he will be investigated even if no one complains about it, just as the police themselves will launch an inquiry into a clear-cut crime even if they don’t receive a complaint. Therefore, Erdan’s response was not quite accurate. Moreover, it is deplorable that the police exploit the fact that the Eidah Chareidis does not recognize the Israeli government, and its people therefore do not file complaints even when they suffer from police brutality. That merely adds insult to injury. In addition, if it is really true that the Internal Investigations Department insists on receiving a complaint to open an investigation, why did they agree to review this case?

I predict that Yinon Azulai, the MK who submitted the query, will soon follow up on it by asking the Minister of Justice, whoever he (or she) will be, about the results of this investigation. And I am prepared to bet that he will find that the case was closed!

What Happened Before the Video?

Let us go back to the case of Yehoshua Mordechai Kreuzer of Beit Shemesh, whose abuse at the hands of the police outraged the entire country and even shook the police out of their complacency. I don’t know if Kreuzer filed a complaint or was called to give testimony after the release of the video, but he was seen emerging from the Internal Investigations Department on Har Chotzvim in Yerushalayim on Tuesday afternoon. Confronted by the press, Kreuzer stood facing the cameras and declared, “They kicked me. They beat me. They knocked me to the ground. And the brutal violence continued. They slapped me many times; they hit me in the head, and many more times all over my body. They forced me to my feet and pulled out part of my left peyos. And they said to me, ‘You are going to die today.’” Kreuzer told the investigators that he had simply been standing and watching the demolition of the shul when he was accosted.

One of the media’s longtime police correspondents, who generally accepts the police’s version of every incident, changed his tune in his report on this case, which he described as a blow to the public image of the police force. “The sight of a police officer dragging a chareidi man in Beit Shemesh on Friday is bad for the police,” he added. “Police officers seized Kreuzer, beating him and kicking him as they arrested him.” Nevertheless, he still cited the response of the police, which was the patently false claim that Kreuzer had committed an act of violence by throwing rocks at the police officers before he was arrested.

On Tuesday evening, a “senior official” in the police force was quoted as explaining that the officer who had assaulted Kreuzer hadn’t been dismissed or suspended immediately, despite the unequivocal testimony that he had assaulted Kreuzer, for a procedural reason. “Disciplinary proceedings cannot take place simultaneously with a probe by the Internal Investigations Department,” he explained. The same official added, “This is not the behavior that is expected of the police. Every citizen must be treated with respect, even if a police officer suspects the citizen of having committed a crime.”

The first part of this official’s statement was untrue. A police officer can be suspended or dismissed even during an investigation. The second part of his statement is true, but it is never put into practice. While the police might be expected to show respect to every citizen, even one who is a suspect or is in custody, that does not happen. The police—especially the members of the Border Guard, who are trained to use violence and are brought to demonstrations for that purpose—regularly employ violence.

The brutal abuse of Kreuzer, especially the image of a police officer pulling his peyos with enough force to detach them, outraged everyone who saw the video, which was broadcast in every media outlet. The Israeli public was revolted by the officer’s behavior, and Channel 12 aired additional videos of police brutality against chareidim, including an incident in which a policeman yanked the peyos of a Litvish bochur at a demonstration in Bnei Brak. This time, it seems certain that there will be some sort of response.

Rather, it is almost certain, but it is not quite definite. The violent abuse of Yanky Rosenberg on Lag B’Omer evoked an outcry of the same intensity, perhaps even more than the horrific abuse of Kreuzer, but the police officers responsible for that beating were not suspended. The police tend to rely on the fact that the public has a short memory, and they hope that this incident will also fade from the public consciousness. We, however, cannot allow that to happen.

The Police Drag Their Feet

In the upper echelons of the police force, there was a clear understanding that this incident called for a different response than usual. Minister Erdan announced at an event in the north, “A violent officer has no place among the ranks of the police.” The police commissioner released a statement claiming that he had chosen to remove the officer from his position. That, however, was misleading; if the officer is merely transferred to a different division, it would hardly be a punishment for him. On the contrary, it sends the message that beating a chareidi will lead to nothing more than a transfer. Besides, the officer hasn’t yet been transferred anywhere; he is resting at home, with his leg in a cast. That is also the reason that he hasn’t been questioned yet by the Internal Investigations Department. They sent him a summons, but were forced to postpone it until he recovers.

This may turn out to be yet another case in which the police stall, drag their feet, and cover up their own wrongdoing until the public forgets the incident altogether. It certainly seems that this officer committed an act of violence and should be dismissed by the police force. MK Moshe Arbel (Shas) is a legal expert, and this week he sent the following professional opinion to the Police Internal Investigations Department:

“It is true that the video doesn’t show the incident in its entirety, and it is certainly possible that there was a reason for the arrest of Mr. Kreuzer at that time due to actions that he committed that evening. [This is a response to the police’s claim that Kreuzer had thrown rocks at the officers before the video was taken.] At the same time, the existence of grounds for an arrest does not grant police officers a blanket permit to do as they please, including the use of violence or demeaning a person for his religious background. There is no justification for pulling the peyos of a Jewish man, even if the prisoner was resisting arrest, and certainly when he was not resisting.

“This is a disproportionate violation of human dignity…. A Jew’s peyos have always been a sign of his identity as a Jew, a symbol of his religious devotion, his faith, and his sense of belonging to his religion. Therefore, it appears that the officer’s actions were in violation of paragraph 170 of the Penal Code, which states that ‘a person who destroys, damages, or desecrates a place of worship or any item that is considered sacred to a community of people, with the intent of demeaning their religion or with the knowledge that they are likely to view that action as an insult to their religion, will be punished with three years of imprisonment.’ That is in addition to the crimes of violence that he committed. This police officer should be subject to the full punishment prescribed by the law.”

As long as the incident remained in the headlines, the police understood that they had to straighten out their act. Nevertheless, it is far from certain that this officer will be dismissed. In fact, that would create a problem for the police force: If he is removed from duty, other videos from the past will crop up, showing other officers pulling other men’s peyos. The police have already issued a “clarification,” claiming that if it becomes clear that the officer had no choice but to pull on the man’s peyos to complete the arrest, it would not be considered a crime at all.

The officer’s attorney also released a rather discouraging statement: “Since the incident, the officer has been on sick leave, with a cast on his leg as a result of the brutal violence perpetrated during the episode by the complainant and his friends. As a result, the investigation has been postponed until next week. I have no doubt that after he delivers his version of the story and the full picture becomes clear to the Internal Investigations Department, it will be proven that all his actions on that day were legal and appropriate.”

The police officer’s version of the story, then, will be that everything he did was within the bounds of the law. He will explain that the chareidi suspect tried to escape, and that he had no choice but to take every possible action to prevent him from fleeing. We will have to wait and see what happens next in this case, but I will not be surprised if it takes an unexpected turn.

Fearful of Revenge

I didn’t quite understand why Chaim Goldberg, a photographer for a certain news outlet, received credit for the incriminating videos of Mordechai Kreuzer’s arrest, and was interviewed by several secular media outlets. After all, it was clear that he was not the person who recorded the videos. Goldberg explained to me that the videos had actually been recorded by Kreuzer’s neighbors, but they were afraid to be revealed as the source of the evidence, and therefore delivered the videos to him.

The first video was presented in court on motzoei Shabbos; Kreuzer had remained in custody throughout Shabbos, despite the pleas of his wife, who is struggling with a complicated medical condition, and the numerous testimonies that Kreuzer himself is indisputably a nonviolent person. Strangely, even though the video shows police officers attacking Kreuzer while he was doing nothing other than watching the demolition of the shul, the judge did not free him even after seeing the evidence. Incidentally, Mrs. Kreuzer has since been hospitalized. The second video, which shows the officer pulling Kreuzer’s peyos, was released by Goldberg only on Monday.

Aren’t you afraid of the police?

“People have warned me that I am endangering myself, and they might be correct,” he admitted. “They are afraid that the police will trump up charges against me in retaliation. But I am less concerned, because this is my work.”

Have you seen similar incidents at the demonstrations you have witnessed?

“I have never seen this level of degradation and humiliation of a human being,” he replied. “If this police officer isn’t convicted and expelled from the police force, it will be a message to his colleagues that no one will stop them from preying on chareidim. I am certain that if we had responded better to the beating of Yanky Rosenberg, this incident would never have happened.” He also brought up another point: “In the courtroom, four police officers testified that Kreuzer hit a policeman. Now that the video has proven that to be untrue, why is nothing being done to those four officers who testified falsely? Who knows how many chareidim are sitting in prison or have served time in prison because of false testimony delivered by policemen?” he added.

I am trying to understand why the judge didn’t release Kreuzer immediately after viewing the video on motzoei Shabbos.

“She was appointed only recently, and the police officers insisted he had been throwing stones before the video was taken. The next day, when the video was presented that showed the brutal violence and the police officer pulling his peyos, the judge was furious and ordered him released immediately.”



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