How Israel Silenced its Gaza War Protesters
A new report from Adalah shows how the courts and police attempted to stamp out opposition to Operation Cast Lead. "This is a time of war, and every incident harms the people's morale."
This was not a sentence in a right-wing journal, but rather a statement by an Israel Police representative during Operation Cast Lead seeking to persuade the Tel Aviv District Court to block anti-war protesters from the city.
Around the same time, in a Haifa Magistrate's Court hearing on extending the remand of minors, Judge Moshe Gilad stated: "Anyone who enables remarks denouncing the state and backing its enemies, even as they rain missiles upon its citizens, must obey its laws, and certainly is prohibited from attacking police who come to impose order. It is similar to a person spitting in the well from which he drinks."
Here are some of the pearls in Adalah's new report: "Prohibited protest - how the law enforcement authorities limit the freedom of expression of opponents of the Gaza military attack." The document, being published for the first time here, was written by attorneys Abeer Baker and Rana Asali. They reviewed and analyzed hundreds of rulings and detention requests, interviewed dozens of human rights activists who were arrested and threatened during the Gaza attack, and documented the behavior of Israeli academia during the moments of truth last winter.
The Adalah report was completed a few days before the Goldstone report was released. It harshly criticizes the damage to freedom of expression and the lack of tolerance for protests, primarily by Arab Israelis, against the attack on Gaza's civilian population. The report shows that enforcements officials did not learn from the October 2000 riots, and did not internalize the Or Commission recommendations.
The authors wrote that while they worked on their report, President Shimon Peres accepted the recommendation by former justice minister Daniel Friedmann to pardon 59 citizens who committed criminal offenses during protests against the disengagement in August 2005. The president stated that the pardons were being granted out of an understanding for the young people's protests, and awareness that this was an unusual, historic event.
The Arabs (and a handful of Jews) protesting against the bloody incidents that took hundreds of lives did not receive a fraction of that understanding.
"In all court decisions we reviewed, the authorities did not mention the reason for the anger of war opponents," they stated. "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."
The war mobilization went up to the Supreme Court. Of seven appeals submitted regarding the detainment of suspects until the completion of proceedings, the court sided with the state in every case. Supreme Court Judge Asher Gronis stated in ruling in favor of the detention of a minor until the end of the proceedings: "Of course, when times change, the matter of detentions will be reconsidered." He added, "When I say 'change in times,' this refers to the end of the military operation in the Gaza Strip and fewer violations in the Northern District."
The researchers note that the "change in times" clause disconnects the detention from the circumstances of the suspect, and makes this a matter of a community's behavior. They note that the detention law was intended to provide uniform tools regarding the revocation of freedom and does not differentiate between war time and peace.
Detentions as a goal
The Adalah researchers found that detentions during fighting became a goal in and of themselves. The police and the State Prosecutor's office vehemently refused to consider releasing even minors from detention or restrictive conditions.
The state's representatives in effect confirmed the detentions were designed "to send a deterrent message to the public as a whole and to the rioters in particular." During another remand extension hearing, they acknowledged this effort was aimed at 'deterring the protesters with force and detaining them until the end of the proceedings in order to convey a message to the public that such behavior is unforgiveable."
These comments were made in a detention motion that the court found was not supported by any factual, evidentiary basis. Somewhat ironically, the police again defined the protests against the war as "a disruption of the peace."
The prevailing trend around the world, including in Israel, is to try minors under proceedings that take into account their needs, welfare and well-being. Despite this, during the operation, hundreds of minors spent weeks behind bars awaiting trial. A review of several decisions regarding "daily detention" indicates how the police inflated the suspicions against the detainees, in order to lengthen their detention.
For example, on December 29, 2008 the Hadera Magistrate's Court received a police motion to hold for another seven days two people suspected of rioting and interfering with a policeman carrying out his duties. The police representative argued that the suspects burned tires, threw stones at policemen and called for Jews to be killed. The court ordered them freed, stating, "The request to extend the detention is baseless and inflated, and it would have been better if some of the remarks in the motion had never been written."
Under its obligation to uphold freedom of speech, specifically in times of conflict, the police used force to try to silence protest. Adalah found numerous testimonies indicating a widespread phenomenon of people being arrested merely because they were present at an incident. Average individuals were accused of serious violations, spent a night in detention and were brought to court handcuffed. At many protest vigils, large numbers of police showed up and dispersed the gathering with force, under the pretense that the gathering was illegal. The testimonies clearly indicate that not all the protests required a police permit.
In some cases, the police conditioned the release of protesters on their not taking part in more protests. Police used harsher threats to disperse legal anti-war protest vigils when there were also right-wing protesters there voicing support for the operation. In these cases, the police officials claimed that as few as three people is enough to justify crowd dispersal, declare the protest illegal and deem all the participants rioters. Protests were dispersed violently, and protesters sometimes suffered serious bruises. Buses en route to protests were commandeered and forced to turn around.
The Shin Bet General Security Service also took part in silencing protest; the police summoned activists, but when they arrived at the police station, they were questioned by Shin Bet investigators. Some activists said their interrogators asked political questions and threatened to persecute them and make them responsible for every violation that occurred during the demonstrations. The attorney general supported the Shin Bet's questioning and threatening methods, saying that it was meant to calm the atmosphere.
The report accuses intellectuals and academics of standing by during the violence in Gaza and overlooking the collective arrests of peace activists. Only a few lecturers mustered the courage to publicly protest the military operation. Academics who protested the collective arrest of settler teens did not speak out against the suspected IDF war crimes and the collective detainment of protesting minors. Academic institutions hung banners and took out newspaper ads voicing support for the war. They stood by while the Shin Bet and the police charged at Jewish and Arab students protesting the operation.
For instance, at the height of the operation, the University of Haifa released the following announcement despite its many Arab students: "As a show of solidarity with IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza and residents of the south, the University of Haifa has made its central tower into a national flag ... the university is not an ivory tower and is inseparably connected to the community. With this symbolic act, it expresses its great appreciation for the residents of the south and its support for the IDF's soldiers."
The ministry responds
The Ministry of Justice spokesman responded: "During Operation Cast Lead there were serious nationalistically motivated gatherings and rioting, occasionally accompanied by real disturbances including stone throwing and road blockades, and in some cases there was risk to human life and public welfare, similar to the events of October 2000 (albeit not on the same scale and not at the same intensity).
"Alongside police efforts to enforce the law and restore order, the prosecution needed to increase steps to enforce the law and prevent the spread of the phenomenon. This was done via increased enforcement, insisting on detention until the conclusion of proceedings, based on the reasons for the detention (primarily endangerment) and carrying out the law to the fullest regarding criminals, subject to the specific circumstances of each case.
"Court rulings, through the October 2000 events, called for detaining rioters - including minors - who were involved in nationalistically motivated disturbances that posed a threat to passersby and security forces, based on the specific danger posed by each detainee. The Supreme Court on more than one occasion determined that a person who throws stones at government agents seeking to restore order or at innocent bystanders may continue to endanger public safety and even human life.
"That the actions stem from ideological fervor, and take place in large and heated gatherings, make them more dangerous. This is a phenomenon that builds on itself. Once it became part of the agenda of those rioters, the court ruled that the threat to human life cannot be ignored.
"In cases involving the detention of minors, the prosecutors were instructed to ask courts to begin proceedings as soon as possible and to handle the cases quickly."
© 2009 Haaretz