Dec 02, 2021

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On Saturday night, the serenity of Jerusalem was disturbed by hundreds of people demonstrating at the Chords Bridge. The people were angered that almost one year after the death of Ahuvya Sandak, age 16, there have been no conclusions from the investigation into the police actions that resulted in his death. Countless demonstrations have been held since his death, demanding a proper and full investigation into the boy’s death. 

Police suppressing protests

In fact, by all appearances, the police reaction to the public outrage was heavy-handed, intended to silence the outcry. Police used a water cannon to spray “Skunk”, a malodorant, non-lethal weapon, at the crowd. Four policemen were injured and 21 protesters were arrested for disturbing public order.

Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir was at the protest and was even targeted by the Skunk. 

“Unfortunately there is one law for right-wing protesters and one law for protesters on Balfour Street,” Ben Gvir said. “I do not remember the police using the ‘Skunk’ to disperse demonstrations in Balfour. I came to the demonstration to protect the children whom the police treat with violence. If police violence against children continues, I will stay here to protect them. It is inconceivable that the police would beat children who came to protest against the crime committed against Ahuvya of blessed memory, and to try to shut them up and infringe on freedom of expression.”

Government indifference

In an interview on Sunday with Galei Tzahal (IDF Radio), Public Security Minister Omer Barlev (Labor) blamed the victim.

 “Sandak’s death was caused by him trying to run away and the cops doing their job,” Barlev said. “This is not to the liking of some of the hilltop youth, but it is not a reason to open an investigation against policemen who were doing their job. This indicates that there are citizens who do not believe the State and want to take the law into their own hands.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism party) criticized Barlev’s remarks.

“So according to Omer Barlev, there are civilians who police are allowed to kill and whose death does not even warrant an investigation,” Smotrich said. “You heard well, not even an investigation that would verify what exactly happened there.”

Not everyone views the incident with such equanimity. Journalist Amit Segal tweeted out on Saturday:

“There is no more justified protest at the moment in Israel than at the entrance to Jerusalem that calls for an investigation into the death of Ahuvia Sandak. An Israeli boy killed in a police chase? Senior internal police investigators claimed there would be a police investigation, but nothing happened. Who will investigate the policemen who caused the death of a boy?”

Flawed investigation

Sandak was killed last December 21st in the Benyamin region after a high-speed chase with undercover policemen. The policemen were responding to a report that youths had thrown rocks at Arabs in the area. They pursued the car with five young people in it and, according to reports, rammed the vehicle, pushing it off the road and causing it to flip. They removed four of the youths from the wreckage and, against police protocol, handcuffed and arrested them before allowing them to be taken for medical treatment. Ironically, the youths in the car were charged with manslaughter and interrogated for three days following the crash. 

Despite the protestations by the young people that a fourth passenger had been in the car, the police ignored this claim, and Ahuvia remained under the vehicle for over an hour. Volunteers from ZAKA, the organization that deals with dead bodies in such situations, were prevented from arriving at the scene for over four hours. 

Police were accused of hiding evidence after illegally closing off the scene of the accident to locals, journalists, and even Knesset Members who by law are meant to enjoy immunity from police intervention. The initial police report claimed there was no contact between the two vehicles. Despite eyewitness reports to the contrary, police are now claiming that it was the car with the young people that rammed the police vehicle. 

Initially, the head of a Justice Ministry unit for investigating police misconduct, Keren Bar-Menachem ordered officials not to probe the police officers involved in the incident, claiming that since the arrested teens refused to cooperate, there was no one to file a complaint against the officers. The youths did file an official complaint after they were released and an official inquiry was launched.

In January, one of the police officers involved in the incident was indicted on charges of obstructing the investigation. The officer allegedly gave an anonymous interview to the Maariv newspaper, giving what he claimed was the police side of events. The officer denied the accusation.