Analysis: Venomous stares and a trial that might have been avoided

In the Leef trial it is unlikely that either side cares as much about the legal result as maintaining its standpoint.

Daphni Leef, January 26, 2014 (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Daphni Leef, January 26, 2014
(photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)
Until Daphni Leef’s trial started on Sunday, regarding police allegations that she had allegedly attacked a police officer, and her counter allegations of police violence against her, it was not fully clear why this trial was happening.
On the police’s side, they are on unusually thin ground.
The prosecution refused to file a criminal indictment.
Either the case was unpalatable from a criminal law perspective, or so politically undesirable – in being seen as trying to criminalize a protest leader like Leef – or both.
That usually ends a case.
When the police want a criminal indictment and the prosecution does not, the prosecution wins. Yet the police went so far as to hire independent counsel to push the case forward.
When the police realized the case had complications, both criminal and political, they offered Leef an extremely light plea bargain deal that would have meant, at most, a slap on the wrist.
Most other people would have taken it, to avoid the legal fees and long disruption of regular life that intense litigation inevitably brings, so the question remained – why didn’t Leef? All of the confusion was cleared up, in an instant, on Sunday.
The mutual venomous stares between Leef and her arresting officer Yosef Shavi during his testimony left no doubts.
This trial is the continuation of war between two sides that are repulsed by each other, by the events of their June 2012 conflict and prior conflicts over setting up tents in public places and protesting.
Leef rejected the deal out of hand. She would not plead guilty to anything, when the most important principle for her was the defense of her right of free speech – which Leef said she believed the police were oppressing, by stopping people from setting up tents and then arresting her, implying that they were thugs.
Shavi, for his part, expressed anger at the treatment of the police, from the throwing of water bottles, to cursing to shoving, eventually saying that the June 2012 incident was “like a war.”
As far as he is concerned, Leef and her supporters are exporters of chaos – the antithesis of his mission of maintaining public order.
For nearly two extended and uncomfortable minutes, the two attempted to stare each other down with eyeroles, grimaces and smirks, almost as if whoever departed first from the locked-in “staring contest” would be admitting moral defeat.
All of this overlapped with loud exclamations about who was lying and whether Leef or the Israeli police were on trial.
From the judge’s initial questions as to why the police charged Leef for “attacking” a police officer for a mere shove, one can tell that the police have their work cut out for them.
But in the end, it is unlikely that either side cares as much about the legal result as maintaining its standpoint, honor and winning the public narrative on the issue.