The trial of social justice movement leader Daphni Leef on charges of forcefully resisting arrest in a June 2012 protest began Sunday in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.
She is basing her defense on a counter-charge of police brutality, arguing that they improperly roughed her up at the time of her arrest.
Leef said before the hearing that the police had violated her right to free speech, as well as that of others, but that she would not back down and hoped “cooler thinking” would prevail over “thuggery.”
The case has been controversial, both because of the political implications of bringing a criminal case associated with a social justice protest and because the state prosecution refused to file the case, forcing the police to hire independent counsel on its behalf.
Also, in September 2013, Leef’s legal team succeeded in uncovering that one of the policemen who arrested her had a past history of roughing up protesters, which the police allegedly tried to conceal.
The trial itself started with additional controversy, as police officer Yosef Shavi, who arrested Leef, and Leef’s lawyer, Gabi Lasky, shouting at and interrupting each other during cross-examination.
When Lasky implied that Shavi was lying about having seen Leef push a police officer – the reason he gave for arresting her – he raised his voice in anger, saying, “I saw what I saw. You can try to make me sound like a liar.
Not you and not anyone else can make me out as a liar.”
He added, “God forbid that a policeman would lie. I cannot think of a policeman who lies.”
Lasky responded equally forcefully stating, “The Israel Police is not on trial here,” seeming to imply that the police should be on trial, not Leef.
In his description of Leef’s alleged “use of force” against police, Shavi said that she pushed a police officer with both hands and also tried to pull him down.
Relating that protesters were “throwing water bottles at and cursing the police,” Shavi said that the situation was “not pleasant” and “like a war.”
When Judge Shamai Becker intervened, pressing Shavi as to why he called what seemed to be minor physical contact “an attack” on a police officer, Shavi replied that she had “disturbed the police” from doing its job in removing tents and containing the protest.
Shavi also came under fire from Lasky in light of the fact that no police officer has claimed that Leef pushed him.
In other words, the entire arrest and case is based on Shavi’s word that he saw Leef push someone, who themselves did not report being pushed.
Undeterred, Shavi explained that he was standing on an outer portion of the protest and had the best vantage point to see what Leef was doing.
He also said that the officer whom he says Leef pushed was in the middle of a melee of people, could have been pushed by many people from different directions, and may not have seen who was pushing him.
Leef became nationally famous as the face of the summer 2011 social justice tent-protest movement, which at one point had hundreds of thousands protesting poor housing and living conditions, especially for poor people but also for the middle class.
Although initially highly successful and forcing the government into offering all sorts of new initiatives, the protests lost their mass appeal when the summer ended and when the Tel Aviv Municipality fought hard to remove the tents.
The summer 2012 protests were much smaller but more chaotic, in that the municipality tried to stop the protesters from re-pitching tents in public areas, leading to clashes that included the June 2012 incident at issue in the trial.