This past weekend, two summer phenomena returned to the streets of Tel Aviv: the longtime tradition of a summer heat wave and the much more recent phenomenon of a summer social protest.
On Friday (June 22) hundreds of people made an attempt to reestablish the “social protest encampment” in Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, where last year’s social justice protests began. However, this time the protesters were met with the municipality’s heavy hand – in the form of police officers and municipal inspectors who came to prevent them from placing a tent on the ground. The protesters reacted by carrying the tents on their shoulders; the tents were confiscated by the police. While using excessive force, the police arrested 11 demonstrators, including the violent arrest of Daphni Leef (who set up the initial tent that sparked last year’s protests).
In response to these events, ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, Attorney Dan Yakir, who was one of several attorneys on the site the arrestees where brought to (the Gllilot Police Station) and provided legal counsel, stated that “The Tel Aviv Municipality is ignoring the fact that there is no need to receive a permit for erecting a protest tent on public property, nor is there any need to receive a permit for a protest vigil, regardless of the number of persons participating in it. The police should offer ACRI’s guidebook on the rights of demonstrators as compulsory reading in any police training, including for its senior officers.”
On the following day, Saturday June 23, thousands of people marched in the streets of Tel Aviv – demanding social justice and protesting against the police brutality of the previous day. The demonstrators blocked roads and smashed the windows of several banks around Rabin Square. According to many reports and videos, police used excessive force against the protesters and arrested 89 persons, among them one of ACRI’s employees (she and many others were released early this afternoon). Some of those arrested are still being held in custody at this time, and the police stated that it will go ahead and press charges against them, as well as against the 11 that were arrested (and released) on Friday.
ACRI continues its intensive work to promote and protect of freedom of expression and the right to protest – in the face of the ongoing violations of these fundamental rights.
Here’s a sample of the freedom of protest issues that ACRI dealt with in the past month alone:
- The summoning of social protest activists to police stations in order to gauge their plans for the summer: ACRI sent a letter to the Police Commissioner demanding that he put an end to this practice; published a clarification to protesters explaining that they have no legal obligation to accept these summonses; and issued another letter to protesters to inform them of their right to be represented by the Public Defender’s Office (June 13-14).
- Inviting right and left wing activists to “warning talks” with the General Security Service even though they were not suspected of breaking the law. This unacceptable practice dangerously restricts freedom of expression and is not appropriate in a free society (June 19).
- Following the work of ACRI and B’Tselem, the Israeli army announced that it will avoid using dogs to disperse demonstrations in the Occupied Territories. The wrongfulness of using dogs to disperse demonstrations is not only based on the physical danger that a dog constitutes for demonstrators, but also on the severe injury to human dignity that this type of “means of dispersal” inherently entails (June 17).
- However, all Palestinian protest activity – including explicitly nonviolent activity – is still criminalized within the Israeli system in the West Bank. This is exemplified by the case of Muhammad Amirah, who was arrested a year ago while sitting on the ground in front of a tractor repeating the phrase “I am not engaging in violence” and is currently still held by Israeli authorities. Amirah’s case does not include any charges or mentions of violence and is thus an important example of the criminalization of all political activity by Palestinians in the West Bank (June 20).
- ACRI sent a letter to the Tel Aviv Municipality’s Legal Adviser (Hebrew), following the city’s attempts to prohibit a small protest encampment in Rabin Square and refusal to issue a permit for this encampment – despite the fact that there is no need for such a permit (June 6).
- Following the accumulation of testimonies regarding police violence in the social justice demonstration in Tel Aviv, ACRI sent a letter to the Tel Aviv District Police Commander, demanding that he act to curb illegal police treatment of demonstrators (May 31).
- Following the sweeping refusal of the Jerusalem police to approve demonstrations in two of the city’s main squares – Paris Square and Zion Square – ACRI sent a letter to the police, warning that this sweeping refusal is illegal (May 30).
- ACRI Attorney Sharona Eliahu-Chai sent a letter to the Police Legal Adviser, following illegal conditions in a permit issued for a demonstration in Be’er Sheva (Hebrew). The police conditioned the permit on the requirement that “there will be no signs that damage Israel’s name” (May 20).
- Ahead of the Knesset discussion of the Proposed Law to Prohibit the Use of Nazi Symbols and Epithets, ACRI Attorney Lila Margalit sent a letter to MK David Rotem, Chair of the Constitution Committee, urging him to oppose the law. The letter noted that “Freedom of expression includes the right to make forceful, trenchant and even offensive comments […] The social legitimacy of the use of the symbols of the Holocaust in political and public discourse is a complex issue that warrants free discussion in the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ This is not a matter that should be addressed by means of criminal law” (May 29).