Court nixes police demand for media to turn over videos of Prawer protest

Police said news footage of protests at Hura was necessary since assailants threw rocks, firebombs from all angles.

Prawer plan protests November 30, 2013 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Prawer plan protests November 30, 2013 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday nullified a court order issued just a day earlier which demanded all media outlets turn over photos and videos of the protest in the South on Saturday against the Prawer plan.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered at sites across the country on Saturday to protest the proposed Prawer- Begin resettlement bill, which would reorder large areas of Beduin villages. The largest gathering was near at the Hura Junction in the Negev, where several police officers were lightly wounded and tear gas and stun grenades were used to disperse the crowds.
Doron Ben-Hamo, the Southern District Police spokesman, had said the court order was necessary since the assailants threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at officers from all angles, and the police were not able to photograph or video all the attacks.
In a surprising turnaround, Haim Didi, representing the police in court on Tuesday, asked that the same order be nullified. Didi told the court police knew they had authority to maintain the court order on the media, despite an avalanche of criticism, but that they no longer needed the order and would get the information in some other way.
Didi also attempted – without being prompted by the court – to explain the police’s reversal on the order.
“We believed the order would help obtain evidence, but we have succeeded in obtaining evidence from other videographers who will submit [their videos] to the court if needed,” he said.
The court responded that the police’s conduct was “shocking,” since when the initial order was issued, they had given the court “a secret report” proving the “utmost necessity” of the order. The court said it had expected a hard-fought hearing Tuesday afternoon over the order, with arguments from a range of media outlets angry at the move, but the police’s reversal made the hearing unnecessary.
The Israel Journalists Association had previously condemned the order demanding news outlets turn over media, saying it “goes against all ethical conventions in Israel, to the ethical boundaries of the journalists council and to past court rulings.”
“We strongly condemn this attempt to use journalists as an investigatory tool and view it as a serious blow to the public trust in the press,” it continued, saying it would join media outlets appealing the earlier decision.
A statement released by Israel Police on Tuesday described the sequence of events that led to them securing the court order, and the decision to later nullify it.
Police said after receiving the order and “at the end of consultation with relevant professional officials and after a deep examination of all of the aspects and consequences of the request, the decision was made to cancel the order approved by the court and not use it, even though the order was secured legally.” It also said they “reserve the right to turn to the court with specific requests dealing with certain events,” keeping in mind the relevant proportions of the event and the demands of the investigation.
Police said 28 people were arrested in Saturday’s protests, and that 15 officers were hurt in the South and at a protest in Haifa, including Coastal District Commander Haggai Dotan. On Monday, the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court presented indictments against four adults on charges including assaulting police, disturbing the peace and harming animals and a vehicle.
MK Nachman Shai (Labor), a former IDF spokesman, called the police request on Monday “a deep blow to the press and its work.”
“Once again the police have failed in their understanding of democracy and their adherence to the values of an enlightened country.”
The Prawer-Begin bill is currently being debated in the Knesset Interior Committee.
The proposal would legalize some of the Beduin’s claimed land but force many to move to government established towns in the South. Some view the plan as a compromise between different interests involved, including advancing Jewish settlement in the South, while others say it is a land grab by the government.