Israeli police breaking up an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Videos of clashes between Jerusalem police officers and haredim provide ample examples of gratuitous violence. Police kicked, shoved and dragged the haredim on the asphalt. Some of the demonstrators were picked up and thrown viciously on the street. One officer was caught on camera taking a pair of glasses worn by one of the demonstrators, breaking them and throwing them with all his might as far away as possible.
None of the footage shows haredi demonstrators using force against the police. The demonstrators did block roads.
But they did so passively by sitting in the middle of the street and refusing to move. When police bodily removed them from the street they attempted to return to their places.
Police brutality on display in the streets of Jerusalem Sunday is not an isolated incident.
In April 2015, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv after video footage emerged of police beating an Ethiopian in an IDF uniform named Damas Pakada. There were additional demonstrations by Ethiopians in July 2015 and in 2016 against unreasonable force used by police.
Handicapped activists who are demanding higher welfare support have also complained of police violence. Last month, during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, police reportedly pushed a wheelchair-bound woman to the ground and broke the joystick that controls the chair. Five were arrested and were not allowed access to medication.
Left-wing activists demonstrating against the evictions of Arabs in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or against the security barrier in towns like Bil’in have also come against police brutality.
Similar claims have been made by right-wing activists, such as hilltop youth or advocates of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s ideology.
In the Arab sector, police violence is particularly rampant and has often turned lethal.
It is no coincidence that minority groups identified by their external appearance suffer from discrimination.
Some of these groups also adhere to extreme ideologies, which, from the point of view of mainstream segments of society, place them outside the pale. Others use unlawful demonstrations as a means of gaining attention for their cause.
Many of the ultra-Orthodox who demonstrated in the streets Sunday reject the very legitimacy of the State of Israel.
They refuse to cooperate with the IDF and see Zionism as a dangerous and pernicious ideology. They unlawfully blocked the flow of traffic and shouted horrific epithets at police officers such as “Nazi.”
Still, police have an obligation to maintain professionalism even under the most difficult circumstances. That is their job. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Monday that police – particularly those serving in Jerusalem – are under tremendous pressure when dealing with the haredi population. He seemed to hint that this should be taken into consideration when dealing with police brutality.
Erdan’s argument is not convincing. The violence caught on camera Sunday is not an isolated incident, as Chief Rabbi David Lau claimed in a speech Monday at Israel Police headquarters ahead of Rosh Hashana.
Stopping police violence against Ethiopians, Arabs, the handicapped, left-wing and right-wing activists and haredim necessitates recognizing there is a problem.
The groups that suffer from police brutality are diverse, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to work together. Haredim are hardly going to join forces with Ethiopian Israelis; left-wing opponents of Jew living in the capital’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood will probably not cooperate with hilltop youth. These are the weakest groups in society and their inability to act together further undermines their position.
We as a society need to encourage mutual respect and compassion. We are split by sharp disagreements but we are all human. But punishing police who overreact is not the solution. This only generates more suspicion and animosity and encourages police to stick together and cover up misdoings. We should encourage dialogue and prevent dehumanization of the “other.” The health of societies are tested by how they treat their weakest members.