9 January 2009: Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Arab village of Baka al-Gharbiya to protest the Gaza attacks. Entire families came out to voice their anger, including many children and teenagers.
(Haifa, Israel) Today, 22 September 2009, Adalah published a report which exposes the ways in which the Israeli law enforcement agencies responded to the wave of protests by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel opposing the Israel’s military attacks on the Gaza Strip from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. The report reveals how the police, the prosecutors, the General Security Service (GSS or the “Shabak”), the courts and even certain academic institutions acted to use arrest and imprisonment as quick and easy tools to suppress protests by opponents of the military aggression, crushing the rights of Arab and some Jewish citizens of Israel to express their dissent. The new report is entitled “Prohibited Protest: How the Law Enforcement Authorities Limited the Freedom of Expression of Opponents to the Military Attacks on Gaza”.
Information gathered by the report’s authors, Adalah Attorneys Abeer Baker and Rana Asali, indicates that: 832 people were detained by police during the military attacks; 34% of the detainees were minors under the age of 18. 80% of all of those arrested were detained until the end of the proceedings against them, 54% of whom were minors. All of those arrested from the Northern District of Israel were detained until the end of the proceedings; 94% arrested from the Jerusalem district were detained until the end of the proceedings, while no person from the Tel Aviv district was remanded. Predominantly Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians with permanent residency live in the Northern District and Jerusalem, respectively, while Tel Aviv is home overwhelming to Jewish citizens of the state.
The findings indicate that the law enforcement authorities adopted a “no tolerance” policy towards demonstrators opposed to the military attacks in almost every location in which protests were held, even in places that did not witness any violence. This policy was manifested by the dispersal of demonstrations, police violence against demonstrators, and the systematic arrests and detention of demonstrators.
Despite the legality of the demonstrations, the police illegally prevented and interfered with them. They launched a campaign of mass arrests, which affected many, even those who did nothing other than be present at the protest. The police acted against the protests as breaches of the peace and law and order. The only reason behind these steps was the presence of some protestors who supported Israel’s attacks on Gaza in the vicinity of protesters opposed to it.
The prosecution and police transformed each demonstration into a threat against the security of the state. Accordingly, any court decision ordering the release of a detainee was appealed by the State Prosecutor’s Office and all the appeals submitted were granted. In some cases, the police exaggerated the circumstances of the arrest and the protest in order to justify the continued detention and removal of the demonstrator from his/her environment. The majority of indictments issued listed charges pertaining to participation in prohibited gatherings, rioting\disturbance and assaulting a police officer. A very small number of indictments related to posing a threat on peoples’ lives.
The courts indirectly participated in the suppression of the protests. From the court decisions cited in the report, it clearly emerges how the courts set aside the principles of detailed individualized examination, which distinguishes criminal law from other law, preferring to detain the demonstrators sweepingly and indiscriminately. The courts claimed in their decisions that the offense is a “violation stemming from the particular time” and “times have not changed yet” (i.e. the offense mentioned is specific to the war period which is an extraordinary time). The court decisions did not mention the reason for the anger of the protestors: “The hundreds of dead, the injured, the destruction, the tragedy and the damage the Israeli army brought upon Gaza’s residents are not mentioned anywhere in any remand decision. The detainees were presented as lawbreakers and criminals who should be treated harshly due to ‘the situation,’ unconnected from the political climate of their protest.”
For example, in the Nazareth Magistrate Court, the report cites two identical decisions copied from each other, although they refer to four different detainees, who were defended by four different lawyers. Further, in violation of all domestic and international laws, and with the Supreme Court’s support, the authorities dealt with minors similar to adults, without any distinction between them.
Specific instructions were issued to deal with the protests and the detainees, however, the report notes that the police refused to reveal these orders. Similar patterns were followed during the events of “October 2000”, in which the prosecution allocated substantial resources and efforts to restrict the detainees, while failing to investigate the killings of the thirteen unarmed Arab demonstrators and who is responsible for killing them.
Adalah stresses that the methods of suppression of the wave of protest during the military attacks on Gaza, as reflected in the conduct of the police, prosecutors, GSS and the courts, is similar to the conduct of law enforcement during the events of October 2000. Importantly however, in October 2000, 13 people were killed by the police, while in the recent demonstrations, this did not happen.
The “Shabak” was also a partner in silencing the protestors. The “Shabak” summoned dozens of political activists to investigation. These activists informed Adalah that the GSS asked political questions and threatened them with prosecution as well as attributing any crime committed in the demonstrations to them, even if they did not personally commit it. The Attorney General supported the “Shabak’s” involvement, interrogation approach and exerted threats, claiming that it was done in order to appease tempers.
The academia in Israel, as evidenced in the report, did not oppose the arrest campaign; on the contrary, it was also involved in the harassment of protestors. Academic institutions, such as Haifa University, accentuated the national pride evoked by the military attacks, by posting supportive signs on their buildings and through paid advertisements in the newspapers. At the same time, the university did not hesitate in organizing the entry of dozens of police officers, infantry and cavalry, to the university campus, in order to violently disperse the Arab student protestors, who demanded a stop to classes for several hours in protest against the military attacks. Furthermore, the university has not condemned the excessive violence and senseless arrests of the students.
Overall, the report shows that the legal authorities all joined together and applied the concept of “no tolerance, no leniency”. People who did not have any criminal record, found themselves imprisoned for prolonged periods for voicing their protest against the brutal, oppressive military attacks.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (“the Goldstone Committee”), which investigated the breaches of international criminal, humanitarian and human rights law in the Gaza Strip during the military aggression and released its report on 15 September 2009, extensively cites information from Adalah’s report. The UN report devoted a full chapter to the suppression of protests by Israel.
To read the whole report, click here.