Cop gets suspended sentence and fine for assaulting Palestinian woman at checkpoint

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A Border Police officer convicted of the 2021 assault of a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem was given a suspended sentence and a fine on Tuesday.

Oriane Ben Kalifa was previously found guilty of assault for pulling the hijab from victim Hala Salim’s hair, choking her and shaking her without cause.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected a request by Ben Kalifa’s defense that the conviction be overturned.

Instead, the court ruled that Ben Kalifa must pay a fine of NIS 4,000 (approximately $1,100) or spend 40 days in prison and gave her an eight-month suspended sentence and four months of probation. In addition, she was ordered to pay NIS 2,000 ($550) in compensation to the victim.

As her punishment was announced, Ben Kalifa remained defiant and said she would not pay, potentially opening the way to custodial time.

“Let’s be clear, I don’t intend to pay even 10 agorot,” she told the court, referring to the lowest denomination of Israeli currency, worth approximately three cents.

Judge Joya Skappa-Shapiro said that the sentence reflected the fact that Ben Kalifa was repeatedly violent toward Salim.

“It cannot be ignored that the violence continued unnecessarily, even after the complainant was taken to the police station. The degree of violence at the beginning was not significant, but on the other hand, the violence she inflicted on her at the station was more significant, and it was repeated,” said Skappa-Shapiro.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been vocal in supporting Ben Kalifa and blasting the proceedings against her, called Tuesday’s decision “outrageous.”

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“Unfortunately, the judge’s agenda overcame professionalism and the judicial rule that such cases don’t lead to conviction,” he said in a statement. “This decision proves once again that there is a need for a real reform of the justice system and not a cosmetic reform.”

Last month, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court found Ben Kalifa guilty of assault but acquitted her of obstructing justice, partly citing the sloppy manner in which the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) carried out the investigation.

At the time, Skappa-Shapiro criticized the PIID for its handling of the case, noting the lengthy time it took until witnesses from the victim’s family were summoned to give testimony, the way questioning was conducted, and the fact that no officers from the police special patrol unit were questioned even though some were seen in surveillance video witnessing the clash.

According to court papers, the November 4, 2021, incident happened when Ben Kalifa was stationed at a barrier checkpoint set up at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Salim, together with her brother, arrived at the barrier and asked to be let through, which Ben Kalifa refused to do.

Salim insisted that she needed to pass and at some point, Ben Kalifa pushed her back. Amid further shoving, a brawl developed and when Salim’s brother became involved, Ben Kalifa grabbed him by his neck and shirt. Salim then tried to intervene and a physical struggle developed between her and the officer. Ben Kalifa grabbed the woman’s hijab hair covering, pulled it off, grabbed her hair, hit her in the head and knocked her to the floor. The court found that up to and including that point, Ben Kalifa was using unauthorized physical force.

Supporters of former Israeli Border Police officer Oriane Ben Kalifa protest outside her court hearing at the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem, on May 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Kalifa then tried to lift Salim from the ground to arrest her, but Salim resisted. Other officers arrived and Salim was lifted to her feet, at which point Ben Kalifa pulled her to the nearby police station by her neck and hair. At the station, the officer roughly shoved Salim into a chair, choked her, shook her and shouted at her, despite the suspect’s repeated requests that she stop.

The court noted that from the moment Salim was raised off the ground outside she no longer resisted arrest and did not try to escape from the police station. Only while the suspect was resisting arrest was the use of force against her authorized.

In a report of the incident, Ben Kalifa wrote that Salim had attacked her first — a claim the court later deemed false. However, as a result of Ben Kalifa’s claim, Salim was held overnight at the station on suspicion of assaulting an officer.

Salim suffered bruises to her neck in the assault, but the court said there was not enough evidence to show whether the marks were caused when Ben Kalifa was acting in an unauthorized manner or during the moments when Salim resisted arrest and the officer was entitled to use force.

Last month, prior to the sentencing, Border Police Commander Amir Cohen said that Ben Kalifa would be allowed to return for non-operational duty, but he said the decision would be reviewed if necessary after the court made its ruling.

Cohen’s decision was authorized by Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and by Ben Gvir, who both hailed the move.

“Our fighters have my full backing. Contrary to what officials in the military prosecution and the judicial system apparently believe, when fighting terrorism the fight is not conducted under laboratory conditions — but under pressure and in a hostile environment,” the far-right Ben Gvir said.

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