Another, less obvious point, is also of importance. Out of 240 complaints, all of which deal with allegedly unlawful conduct – from violence to looting to unlawful killing – only six, about 2.5%, were made directly to the Military Police Criminal Investigative Division (MPCID), which then made only a desultory effort to investigate them. This rate was somewhat higher in 2008-2009, though still minor – nine percent (see pg. 35-46 here.) The rest of the complaints made it to MPCID by Palestinians registering complaints with Israeli policemen in the DCOs [District Coordination Offices], but the majority came through human rights organizations, either directly (in 42 cases), or indirectly (when the NGOs went to the Military Judge Advocate, in 90 cases.)
Only four complaints were made to MPCID directly by military officers, even though IDF orders make it clear that, when suspicion of certain offenses arises, MPCID must be informed. One single complaint came from the Shin Beth’s ombudsman responsible to examine detainees’ compaints, which, given the notoriety of this department in closing complaints about torture, means that some soldier must have been spectacularly out of line. A similar number of complaints came from the Let the Animals Live NGO (an animals’ rights group), and another came from a righteous person, an individual Israeli citizen.
People sending their complaints through an Israeli cop in a DCO – assuming one is actually present – are sometimes surprised to find that the complaint was lost on its way to MPCID. Sending your complaint via a human rights NGO has an added benefit: they do a good job. If the ratio of complaints coming from the police and maturing into an investigation is a lowly one in six, which is still much higher than those coming from an interrogation facility (1:18), the rate of maturation of complaints coming through the NGOs is one in 2.5 or 1:3.
Why is the rate of direct complaints so low? The answer is simple. MPCID does not have bases in the West Bank (and, obviously, not in Gaza). The IDF and the Border Police has a large number of bases in the Bank, as well as plenty of training lands; recently, the excuse of expelling Palestinians from their lands since they are in a “firing zone” is becoming depressingly common. The West Bank has bases of various land forces, regimental bases, bases of a brigade intended expressly for occupation purposes (the Kfir Brigade), which has six battalions. The IDF is in the West Bank since 1967, and never stopped building there. And yet, MPCID has not a single base in the West Bank.
What this means in practice is that a Palestinian who wants to register a complaint against a soldier who hurt them, need a permit to enter Israel, because MPCID only has bases there. Most of the Palestinians do not have such a permit. This means that there is no practical way to directly register a complaint, making certain that only the truly obdurate will be able to register theirs. This must save some work for MPCID, and some trouble for the soldiers. One wonders if this is truly accidental.
During the first years of the occupation, complaints about soldiers’ violence were rare. This changed immediately when the First Intifada broke out, in late 1987. Between the two intifadas, complaints were supposed to make from the Palestinians to MPCID via the Palestinian Police. This was, let’s say, an unstable arrangement, which collapsed when the Second Intifada broke out – but even though this event is 12 years in the past, MPCID hasn’t built a West Bank base since.
In certain respect, MPCID is an early example of privatizing: It transferred the problem of receiving complaints to the human rights NGOs, which do its work for it without it being forced to spend resources. When it comes to investigating the complaints, though, it does a totally unacceptable job. Yet, this seems like one public service the government of Israel won’t be in a hurry to privatize.
Yossi Gurvitz, Yesh Din