PIU foot-dragging on sexual assault complaint from MK Son Har-Melech

MK Son Har-Melech; Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Thursday, June 15, 2023, 14:27 Last February, Knesset Member Limor Son Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit) was assaulted by four border police officers during the destruction of a vineyard under Jewish ownership near Shilo. The officers trapped MK Son Har-Melech between their arms, and when she tried to escape, they assaulted her. Honenu Attorney Eladi Weisel filed a complaint with the Police Investigation Unit (PIU) on her behalf and wrote a letter to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on her behalf, demanding that he dismiss the officers responsible for the assault.

Attorney Weisel also wrote a letter to the police legal advisor demanding that he clarify regulations for the treatment of women by the police which was answered with a laconic reply: “The matter is under investigation by the PIU.” As of now, there has been no progress in the PIU investigation. Cases of assault on demonstrators similar to the assault on MK Son Har-Melech are not unusual. Honenu has received many similar complaints over the years.

In his letter, Attorney Weisel described the incident: “Over the past few days many condemnations have been heard concerning a video clip that made a huge impact in social media and was covered by all the news media. [In the video clip] border police officers were recorded brutally and invasively handling MK Limor Son Har-Melech and humiliating her. The officers are seen surrounding her and violently depriving her of her freedom of movement in a demeaning manner, as they ignored her requests to allow her to fulfill her duty as a Knesset member who represents the public. She implored the four burly officers surrounding her to release her from their grasp. During the incident, the officers applied patently illegal force that greatly violated the privacy and modesty of the Knesset member. The violation reached its height when one of the policemen pressed up against the MK and thrust his leg between her legs in an invasive act. This constitutes at least assault and under certain circumstances is likely to be considered sexual harassment.”

Attorney Weisel noted in his letter that this type of treatment by officers in the Israel Police has been the experience of many women whom Honenu has represented: “Due to the severity of the acts and the fact that they were carried out on a Knesset member, the video clip of the incident went viral on all of the media channels and social media platforms and amassed a series of condemnations from the entire political spectrum. Regretfully, the undersigned can say that shocking acts of the type that were revealed in the video clip are the lot of many women and are standard ‘police procedures’.

“Honenu receives many letters from women and girls who were sexually harassed and/or suffered application of force by officers in the Israel Police who violated their privacy. The incidents include female demonstrators being handled and physically harassed by male officers, when the Israel Police could have assigned female officers to the task, and strip searches carried out on female detainees at police stations by the police without authorization and/or legal justification, and even cases of sexual harassment by male officers who took advantage of their weakness and state of distress,” wrote Attorney Weisel.

Attorney Weisel highlighted that the cases he described in his letter could have been prevented if the regulations guiding the police officer had been precise and clear: “In many cases, the violations could have been prevented if the police had given thought to the importance of the matter, prepared well in advance, and clarified the relevant regulations. The conduct of the officers who trapped the Knesset member instead of calling for the female officers who were nearby and letting them deal with her indicates the lack of importance that the officers ascribe to the privacy and civil rights of those with whom they come into contact.

“If the officers had given thought to minimizing unnecessary violations of modesty, they would have realized that the [most serious violation] could have been easily prevented. It is obvious that the harassment would not have occurred had the officers refrained from the invasive actions that preceded it. Everyone at the scene had the same mindset: complacency with regard to violating privacy.”

In conclusion, Attorney Weisel pointed out to the police legal advisor that as the subject has been raised in public discourse, this is an apt time to rectify the injustice and clarify the regulations for officers in their interactions with women: “The publicized assault on the Knesset member, which unlike many similar assaults did not slip under the media radar, constitutes a rare opportunity to deal with this important, sensitive, and unresolved topic. This is a call to formulate guidelines that will minimize the violations frequently occurring in ‘gray areas’ that have not yet been sufficiently defined with regard to the authority to apply force entailing physical contact with women.

“This is a critical subject pertaining to safeguarding the fundamental values of the rights to dignity and privacy. Therefore, one must relate to it seriously and work toward eradicating this damaging phenomenon while clarifying and laying out regulations that will prevent its recurrence.”

Honenu Attorney Eladi Weisel also commented on the case: “The foot-dragging in the investigation and the irritating evasiveness concerning a substantial reply to our letter provide a glimpse into the disparaging treatment that the victims of sexual harassment and assault receive. We call on the police to immediately clarify the relevant regulations and put an end to the violations.”

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