(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
A Kiryat Gat magistrate on Sunday night slammed police for violating the basic rights of seven right-wing activists, whom they had arrested Saturday night and Sunday morning to prevent them from rallying in Sderot.
The rally had been organized to call on the government to rebuild the destroyed Gaza settlements. Dozens of participants then tried to march toward Gaza, but were blocked from doing so by police.
Before she freed the seven, Judge Nehama Netzer said the police had exceeded their authority and had prevented them from exercising their right to free speech.
She said the arrests "indicate the arrival of dark days across the State of Israel."
Three of the rally organizers were arrested overnight Saturday at their homes in the West Bank, while the other four had their cars stopped as they entered Sderot,
Attorney David Halevy, who represented the activists in court, said that with the judge's decision, "democracy had reasserted itself."
Right-wing activist Itamar Ben-Gvir denounced the arrests.
"I cannot remember an occasion in which left wingers have been arrested
prior to a demonstration as a preventive measure. When it comes to our people, people take steps that are reminiscent of shady regimes," said Ben-Gvir, who is the spokesman for MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union).
Kedumim Mayor Daniella Weiss, who was held for four hours before she was released, said police pulled her car over to the side of the road just as she entered Sderot. She was merely detained, however, not arrested.
Yosef Darshan of Kiryat Arba said he was similarly tagged by police in Sderot. He was arrested and released by Netzer only in the evening.
The rally which preceded the march passed fairly peacefully. Weiss said that the activists initially lacked a permit for the Sderot rally, but that one was obtained on Sunday so that the event could proceed.
At the rally, some 400 protesters gathered, including former Gaza evacuees. They wore orange, waved Israeli flags and held signs that said, "We love the land of Israel."
National Union head MK Yaakov Katz said at the rally, "I expect the IDF to launch a second Operation Cast Lead in which they will reoccupy Gaza and return the settlers to the area."
Hana Picard, of the former Gaza settlement Shirat Hayam, who attended the rally with five of her children, told The Jerusalem Post simply: "I want to return home."
She is among those who hope that the new government understands how much of a mistake it was to evacuate the 21 Gaza settlements in the summer of 2005 and will therefore rebuild those communities.
"There is an opening here for something to happen," she said.
No permit, however, had been obtained for the march to Gaza that followed. By day's end, more than 30 activists had been detained for questioning after hundreds of police officers, some of them on horseback, blocked the attempts by dozens of protesters to march from Sderot towards Gaza.
Police accused the activists of "going back on assurances" given by organizers earlier in the day that they would not march toward Gaza. But organizers said they had made no pledges regarding a march.
In spite of police efforts, Weiss said, a number of demonstrators made it all the way to the fence in the area of Beit Hanoun and then turned back.