Rights group to Barak: Let Palestinians rally in September

ACRI says military law governing protests in W. Bank denies Palestinians' rights: Protesters "should not be treated like enemy combatants."

Ehud Barak 311 (photo credit: Ariel Tarmoni/Defense Ministry)
Ehud Barak 311
(photo credit: Ariel Tarmoni/Defense Ministry)
The Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday to safeguard Palestinian rights to demonstrate, in anticipation of mass rallies expected to coincide with the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in September.
Lawyers Dan Yakir and Raghad Jaraisy of ACRI asked Barak to formulate an appropriate policy allowing security forces to deal with the mass demonstrations and protests that are expected to take place in the West Bank and along border regions next month.
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In a letter to Barak, Yakir and Jaraisy expressed concerns that security forces have acted disproportionately in the recent past with Palestinian and Arab- Israeli protesters, including during the Nakba protests in May.
They also slammed the government for what they say is its “apparent nonrecognition of the rights of citizens to demonstrate and protest, and exercise their right to freedom of expression” with regard to country-wide housing demonstrations.
According to ACRI’s lawyers, existing military legislation governing protests and demonstrations in the West Bank denies Palestinian residents the right to demonstrate.
The Order Regarding the Prohibition of Acts of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda, issued in 1967, stipulates that demonstrations and rallies in Judea and Samaria cannot take place without a permit issued by a military commander.
The penalty for doing so is a heavy fine or ten years’ imprisonment.
“The situation, which negates in practice the freedom to protest, violates Israel’s obligations under international law to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and protest, including the right to demonstrate,” said Yakir and Jaraisy. Palestinian residents of the West Bank have no access to central government, so peaceful protests are the only way they can make their voices heard, they said.
In their call, they referred to recommendations made by the Or Commission in the aftermath of the October 2000 protests in the North, during which 13 Arab-Israeli demonstrators were killed as demonstrations turned violent. The commission urged security forces to refrain from using disproportionate force against protesters in future demonstrations.
They asked Barak to issue security forces with guidelines on how to deal with Palestinian civilian protests, including explicit instructions not to fire on unarmed protesters and to minimize civilian casualties.
“Palestinian civilians taking part in protests should not be treated like enemy combatants, and the army should not be allowed to open fire on them,” they said.
ACRI said its letter to the minister is in response to reports that the government intends to deploy large numbers of security forces to deal with the mass protests and demonstrations expected to occur in September.
As reported in The Jerusalem Post, the IDF has drawn up plans to issue emergency call-up orders to reservists who might be needed to beef up security along Israel’s borders next month.
IDF sources said the call-up orders would be issued per operational requirements, but in the meantime it was training reservists in crowd-control techniques.
The IDF has also embarked on a multimillion dollar procurement plan for new riot control equipment to deal with possible protests along the country’s borders following the Palestinian bid for statehood. Current IDF assessments refer to the possibilities of a large outbreak of violence or sporadic, large and non-violent marches towards Jewish settlements or IDF checkpoints.
The new equipment is in addition to other riot gear like tear gas, rubber bullets and protective equipment, as well as new technological systems such as the “Scream,” a device that emits penetrating bursts of sound that leave protesters dizzy and nauseous, as well as the “Skunk Bomb,” which contains a foulsmelling liquid sprayed on protesters.
Some of these devices have been used to disperse anti-security barrier demonstrations in the past in the West Bank.
Also, senior Palestinian Authority officials have issued orders this week to PA security forces to stop demonstrations from turning violent, the Maan News Agency reported.
Palestinian Authority security services spokesman Adnan Dmairi called on Palestinians to hold “peaceful, public” protests without violence.
Barak revealed Tuesday that he recently spoke with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to coordinate ways to minimize potential violence in September.
“You can never be fully prepared for every scenario but we are engaged in a serious and comprehensive process of preparation,” he said during a tour of a naval ship in Haifa. “I have also spoken with the PA leadership – with Abbas and Fayyad – about the need to behave responsibly.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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