Court releases final 14 social justice protesters

Amnesty raps police for "indiscriminate" use of force against protesters; source: Activists can submit complaints if they want.

Daphne Leef arrested 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Michal Grossberg)
Daphne Leef arrested 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Michal Grossberg)
Fourteen people were charged on Sunday with disturbing the peace and taking part in an illegal protest in Tel Aviv, a day after a march against police violence spun out of control, with activists blocking the Ayalon expressway and smashing windows at three banks as police used force to clear streets and make 89 arrests.
The 89 arrested included more than 30 who were driven away from city hall in a Dan bus that had been commandeered by police.
All of them were released on Sunday night. In a rare move for a case involving non-serious crimes, police sought an extension of the 14 activists’ remand until the end of the proceedings against them. The court denied the request.
Four of the defendants also face charges of obstructing a police officer in his duty, four are charged with assaulting a police officer, one for resisting arrest and another for assaulting a public servant.
None of them face charges connected to the vandalism that took place Saturday night.
Judge Tzachi Ouziel of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court said that he did not see a reason to keep the defendants in jail, as they are all young people with no criminal records and the indictments did not prove that they posed a threat to society.
Each of the 14 was released on a NIS 1,500 bond and banned from taking part in illegal protests.
Ouziel said, “Freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate are basic rights that cannot be infringed upon. That said, these are not unlimited rights and those who chose to use them must ensure that they do so while also adhering to the law, and without harming public order and the public’s sense of security.”
Smashed bank window in Rabin Square.Smashed bank window in Rabin Square.
Attorney Barak Cohen, who is representing a number of the defendants and is himself a well-known social activist, said at the courthouse on Sunday that the request to hold them until the end of legal procedures was “ridiculous for crimes like this.”
Cohen was photographed at Saturday night’s protest with a bloody nose that he said he received from an errant punch from a police officer. He said he felt the request to hold the protesters was made because “the leadership has no interest in us going out into the streets, and we won’t give up on our desire to hit the streets and we will fight them on this.”
Yigal Rambam, one of the more prominent leaders of last summer’s social protests, said, “What the system is doing is causing the public to realize that change won’t be accomplished by asking the leadership to change things. People must head out into the streets and demand change and get people out of their comfort zone.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in a corridor outside the remand hearing, Rambam said the government’s 94- MK coalition is a sign of panic and hysteria, but added that if the protest movement is to succeed, “it needs to have a clear operational plan for people to get behind.”
He blamed Saturday night’s violence on police, but said, “I am in favor of blocking traffic and disturbing the peace. I am against harming living objects, though.” Rambam added that bank buildings are “absolutely” a legitimate target.
Moments later he fought with security personnel who tried to prevent him from entering the courtroom.
After a few minutes of shouting, the guards let Rambam in to observe the hearing.
Saturday night’s march was the most violent encounter between social justice demonstrators and police since the protest movement began last summer, with more than 2,000 people clashing with police in several spots in central Tel Aviv. Protesters were demonstrating against police brutality, a day after J14 social justice leader Daphni Leef was arrested at a heated protest, during which scuffles broke out between police and activists.
At both Friday’s and Saturday’s protests police were seen striking participants and handling them roughly, though no crowd dispersal weapons were used.
Amnesty International’s Israeli branch sent a letter on Sunday to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch saying it was concerned that police were “using much violence” to repress freedom of speech and assembly.
The letter, signed by Amnesty Israel’s director Yonatan Gher, said the organization condemned violence “of all types,” and criticized vandalism on the part of social justice protesters.
“However, there is much evidence that... serious violence used by police on Friday and Saturday night went beyond ‘reasonable use of force,’ especially in cases when it was directed...
indiscriminately,” the letter continued.
“In addition, despite the unfortunate violence on the part of protesters, violence by police officers should not be seen in an equal light, since the former constitutes a breaking of the law while the latter constitutes a violation of human rights,” Gher said.
He called on the public security minister to swiftly formulate instructions to police to ensure that basic human rights of protesters are safeguarded.
Yarkon police subdistrict chief Cmdr.
Yoram Ohayon on Sunday denied reports that police used excessive violence in dealing with protesters.
“Police brutality is not a term in our lexicon,” he said.
Responding to activists’ complaints that the authorities have decided to silence the movement, Ohayon said: “There is no change in policy in dealing with the protest.”
Tel Aviv police spokesman Moshe Katz said marchers on Saturday ignored calls to disperse and continued to block the roads and confront police officers.
A law enforcement source said on Sunday that protesters who allege they were the victims of police brutality can submit complaints to the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department.
The comment came after the Post asked the source whether police acknowledged that there were instances of abuse during the confrontations, citing video footage showing a policeman shaking and choking a woman before arresting her.
“Such investigations [into allegations of police brutality] are not under our authority,” the source said. “Complaints can be filed to the PID and the evidence will be examined.”
Saturday night’s protest was one of the more significant events for the movement, which is still less than a year old. On Sunday, both the vandalism of activists and the violence of police were criticized by leading figures from the movement.
The National Union of Israeli Students’ Itzik Shmuli said that while there is a great deal of anger and frustration in Israel surrounding the issue of social justice, the violence on display Saturday night was illegitimate.
“The protest and its goals are just, but this method of using violence [also as an answer to police violence] is illegitimate,” he said.
Shmuli vowed that students would still take a leading role in the protests but that they would not endorse such methods as vandalism or scuffling with police.
“There are effective methods for influencing the state other than breaking windows and fighting with police,” he said.
Protest leader Stav Shafir on Sunday denounced the protester violence in Tel Aviv the night before, but accused the government of trying to delegitimize the social protest movement.
“We are opposed to all expression of violence and destruction of property,” Shafir said in a statement. “The government, and its leader, are trying to delegitimize the largest social protest in Israel’s history.”
Saying that the government wants to silence criticism, Shafir added, “The events of last night prove that the public does not buy these lies and it is determined to struggle toward the future of Israeli society, and the right to organize in the public sphere.”