Police Bungled Temple Mount Riots, but Did Not Break Law, Judge Finds

An investigative judge announced Thursday that there is insufficient evidence available to incriminate any of the police officers who fired live ammunition at stone-throwing Arabs on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last year, killing 17 and wounding scores more.

But Judge Ezra Kama’s lengthy report on the so-called Temple Mount massacre of Oct. 8, 1990 was sharply critical of certain police conduct, especially of experienced senior officers who he thought could have avoided the episode.

Kama was appointed to investigate possible police culpability for the deaths after families of the deceased expressed dissatisfaction with the results of an investigation conducted last year.

A special commission of inquiry headed by former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir failed to recommend legal measures against any of the police personnel, although it criticized the performance of some senior officers.

Kama’s report stressed that lack of evidence, not approval of the way the police acted, ruled out legal measures at this time. It noted that if additional evidence turns up, the state prosecutor should consider pressing charges for “negligence which endangered human lives.”

The Jerusalem police were obviously relieved by the report. At least a few had feared a recommendation for legal action. Police Inspector General Ya’acov Terner said Thursday that his department would study the full report and draw the proper conclusions.

But whatever changes are made are expected to be operational rather than in personnel.

CRITICISM OF SENIOR OFFICERS

The Temple Mount massacre seriously hurt Israel’s image in world opinion and intensified the intifada.

It is believed to have touched off the wave of random stabbings of Jews by Arabs, in quiet neighborhoods and main thoroughfares of Israeli cities as well as in the administered territories.

The Temple Mount is an area in the Old City sacred to pious Jews and Moslems. The compound contains the Dome of the Rock and Al Aksa mosques, two of the most sacred shrines of the Moslem faith.

Since Israel captured the Old City in 1967, Jews have not been permitted to worship there in order to preserve peace and good order. But a militant Jewish group known as the Temple Mount Faithful have tried repeatedly to defy the ban.

On Oct. 8, rumors filled the mosques that Jewish activists were on their way to the Temple Mount. Despite police assurances to the contrary, crowds of Arabs gathered on the height overlooking the Western Wall and began stoning Jews worshipping there.

The police reacted by storming the Temple Mount and firing their weapons into the crowd.

“There is no doubt that because of this shooting, people were killed,” the judge wrote.

One police officer testified that he fired a full rifle clip into the crowd. But the judge could not find direct evidence that his shooting caused anyone’s death.

“It is possible that the behavior of some police deviated from rational behavior to the degree of negligence. But I do not see fit to press charges against any of them,” the judge wrote.

He was sharply critical of “senior and experienced officers who failed to curb in advance the outbreak of events.”

The bulk of his criticism was aimed at the special riot police, who he said “fired unnecessarily” while advancing on the crowd.

Avigdor Feldman, a lawyer representing the parents of an Israeli citizen killed in the riot, said he was satisfied with the judge’s ruling. He noted, however, that Kama found “strange” discrepancies in the testimony of police officers.

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