Border police check a Palestinian driver on a road outside the Palestinian neighbourhood of Jabel Mukabaer in East Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
The cabinet on Sunday approved a bill expanding the meaning of probable cause for searching a suspect’s person for weapons, as the country works to control the current security situation.
“Following recent terrorist attacks, there is an urgent need to give the police authority to conduct body searches to better deal with knife terrorism,” explained Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who proposed the amendment. “This is another step I am promoting in a series of decisions to strengthen the police and its authority to increase personal security on the streets.”
The existing law allows police officers to search a person’s body, clothing and items he or she is carrying if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a weapon – which essentially means the police officer had to see something he or she thought could be a weapon in order to conduct the search.
If the bill passes three votes in the Knesset, police officers will be permitted to search anyone in a place prone to violence if they have reason to think he or she may use a weapon. For example, if someone is brawling or spoke threateningly – without a visual clue that the person may be carrying a weapon – that person could be searched and evidence found would be admissible in court.
Places prone to violence, according to the proposed legislation, include “clubs, pubs and discotheques and other places meant for recreation and in which alcoholic drinks are sold to be drunk in that place; places with arcade games, billiards, card games, dice games and others; sports fields, stadiums and any other place with sports competitions; and places a regional police commander declared temporarily as a location where such searches can be made... if he has a reasonable suspicion that the peace could be disturbed by an act of violence in that place.”
If a location is temporarily declared as a zone in which such searches can be conducted, police must hang signs stating that they have that right, and the police officers would have the authority to search people connected to activities in that zone, but not random passersby.
The bill is identical to a government proposal from 2010 that was meant to deal with violence in nightclubs and did not make it through the Knesset, except in that it adds suspicion of terrorism and not just of criminal activity to the reasons a police officer could search someone or declare a zone in which searches are permitted.
The bill applies only to searches for weapons and not drugs or anything else, so as to lessen privacy violations.
Criticizing the bill, Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On accused Erdan of using the security situation to “push Israel further away from norms that are appropriate for a democratic country.”
“Erdan hitched a ride on a five-year-old bill that is barely connected to terrorism,” Gal- On said. “Experience shows that the bill will probably be used to humiliate and discriminate people on the basis of ethnicity and background, and will not be applied equally to all citizens.”
According to Gal-On, police already have enough tools to conduct searches when they are necessary, and there is no need to give them more authority “that at the end of the day will be used to deepen discrimination and fear.”
Similarly, Avner Pinchuk, Association for Civil Rights in Israel Privacy and Information Department head, pointed out that the Public Security Ministry has been trying to pass the bill for years to allow a procedure that courts have said is illegal. The police, he said, already have broad authority to conduct searches, which they used to prevent a terrorist attack in Migdal Ha’emek last week.
“This bill was promoted for years as a supposed response to violence in nightclubs. Only now, ‘security considerations’ were added to it cynically taking advantage of the situation without giving any explanation as to how it will reduce any of the dangers. Despite this, experience in Israel and abroad shows that police officers use gut feelings, and without clear criteria, they rely on stigmas and prejudices, which leads to over-policing and selective enforcement that exists any way, harming minorities – in the US, it is African-Americans and Latinos, and in Israel it’s Mizrahim [Jews of Middle Eastern or African descent], people of Ethiopian descent and Arabs,” he stated.
Venko Smoking Solutions, a company that sells cannabis- smoking paraphernalia and advocates for its legalization, expressed concern the bill would be used to make drug-related arrests.
“As public security minister, Erdan regularly persecutes Israeli cannabis consumers, and now found a new way to harm our freedom and our basic rights as Israeli citizens,” said Venko CEO Eyal Ackerman.
“By blatantly riding the wave of deadly terrorism, Erdan found a loophole to make the dangerous procedure of invading our privacy legal and legitimate.”
Ackerman threatened to start a public and legal battle against the bill.