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Police investigating the murder of a Palestinian man with Israeli citizenship may have been pressed by top politicians to drop the case, according to a Palestinian legal center. Adalah, an independent legal NGO founded in 1996, obtained leaked footage of Israeli police speaking about pressure they’ve received from political figures.
In the video, one of the officers says a minister is “calling every 10 minutes” to check in on the investigation of Moussa Hassouna. Concerns about political interference over the Israeli judiciary are reemerging after the video leak.
Hassouna, a 32-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel and father of three, was shot and killed in Lyd in May 2021 during riots sparked by far-right Israeli settlers. Tensions had erupted following Israeli attacks on the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem. Five Israeli suspects were arrested but released three days later by police and the entire investigation was closed by an Israeli court in October 2021. The central district attorney’s office argued that the Israelis fired on the Palestinians in self-defense and that there was a general lack of evidence. Forensics found the fifth suspect had fired a weapon during the clashes but did not mention if he was the one to kill Hassouna.
Adalah filed an appeal on behalf of Hassouna’s family to reopen the case, labeling the investigation “negligent” and “flawed.” Adalah also claimed to have uncovered additional materials that suggest Israeli politicians pressured police throughout the investigation.
1.8 million Muslims and Christian citizens, many the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who Israelis were unsuccessful in expelling from the land following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, comprise 20 percent of the population. They are represented by only 10 percent of the seats in the Israeli parliament. They also face legal and other types of discrimination compared to other citizens within the “green line,” according to Freedom House.
“Jewish citizens, particularly those of Ashkenazi descent, typically enjoy practical advantages relative to the rest of the population on matters including legal treatment and socioeconomic conditions,” the 2021 Freedom House report on Israel reads.
Experts have decried the erosion of the country’s judiciary over the last decade, largely due to the influence of former Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu was replaced in June as Prime Minister by an even more conservative and hardline anti-Palestinian figure in Naftali Bennett – who many believe will continue to corrode judicial independence. Many tactics have already been implemented to craft a judiciary more favorable to the executive branch.
“The efforts [over the last decade] include legislation, procedural changes, judicial appointments, and election campaigns targeting the judiciary; right-wing media attacks and anti-judiciary civil society activities; and public rhetoric bordering on incitement—including exhortations of government figures to ignore legal rulings,” Dahlia Scheindlin wrote in a report for the Century Foundation.
Hassouna’s murder came on the back of the Sheikh Jarrah evictions in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel claimed land that eight Palestinian families bought and constructed homes on in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was illegal and proceeded to threaten them with expulsion. The families were subject to harassment from Israeli settlers and police. One famous case publicized in international media showed a settler occupying a longtime family home of a Palestinian family. Enraged Palestinians took to the streets in widespread protests in more than 20 cities. A global social media campaign also kicked off attracting the attention of millions. The protests were countered by Israeli settler marches in Lyd.
In 2017, Israel legalized settlements built on private Palestinian land. It was a controversial ruling and depicted a far departure from a ruling in 1979 that upheld claims of Palestinian villagers against a settlement called Elon Moreh on Nablus’ outskirts. The ruling over Palestinians and erosion of their rights has largely come from political influence. Netanyahu was poised to form a government in March 2021 and had he succeeded it would have likely included more extreme figures than ever before, including Jewish supremacists, annexationists, and Israel’s most anti-judiciary figures. As the government and society have moved further to the right during his tenure, so has the pressure on the judiciary.
“A more nationalist religious state and permanent rule over Palestinians both benefit from a weaker judiciary and tenuous constitutional protections,” Scheindlin wrote for The New Republic in July 2021.
Freedom House gave Israel a score of 11/16 in the section pertaining to the “rule of law.” While it received a 4/4 score in regards to having an independent judiciary, as it “regularly rules against the government,” it scored much lower on due process in civil and criminal matters, protection from the use of illegitimate use of physical force and torture during interrogations, and equal treatment of various segments of the population by law and policy.
However, Freedom House’s report also said “some right-wing politicians have advocated reforms that would allow the Knesset to override the Supreme Court when it strikes down legislation.” It’s unclear if leaked footage and other evidence of such cases will impact Freedom House’s 2022 score.
Israel has long argued that its “Arab minority” is evidence of its commitment to human rights and equality. Amnesty International’s report called Israel’s treatment of its non-Jewish population “a system of apartheid.” Their special report cited a number of laws and policies that indicate that the Israeli state considers its Palestinian citizens to be second class. These laws include the prohibition against Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from obtaining citizenship in Israel, the state’s institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian Muslims and Christians, and the fact that almost no Palestinian citizens are recruited into high-level positions in the military or government.
Hassouna’s murder is not an isolated incident. According to OCHA, Israeli settlers killed five Palestinians, injured 137 others, and damaged property in 287 incidents as of October 22. According to government data, the number of occurrences of settler violence against Palestinians in the first half of 2021 was more than double that of the first half of 2020 and more than the entire year of 2019.
The leaks showing political pressure in the investigations into Hassouna’s murder demonstrate the privileges afforded to Israeli settlers and denied to Palestinians. It also adds to the already ample evidence that this unequal treatment extends beyond Palestinians who are not citizens and onto the Palestinian minority in the settler-colonial state.
Israel diametrically contradicts its self-proclaimed declaration of being the “only democracy in the Middle East.” The unequal treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories is consistent and systemic. Accepting Adalah’s appeal in response to the police’s defective inquiry into Hassouna’s killing would be a reasonable first step toward dismantling this apartheid system.