Fundamentally Freund: Tasers and the seeds of tyranny

Something frightening happened in Israel last week, something so alarming it should have every Israeli quaking with fear and anger.

Taser gun (photo credit: Reuters)
Taser gun
(photo credit: Reuters)
Something frightening happened in Israel last week, something so alarming it should have every Israeli quaking with fear and anger.
In a video clip that has gone viral, a man named Boaz Albert, a vintner and father of six, was brutally set upon by five Israeli policemen who burst into his home on Thursday night and repeatedly shocked him with a Taser gun.
Despite subsequent efforts by police spokesmen to downplay or minimize the incident, the video is chilling and incontrovertible.
In it, Albert and others are heard screaming that he is not resisting, yet that did not prevent the police from applying the Taser again, and again, and again.
The eerie sound of the electric shocks, followed by his heartrending shrieks of pain, are accompanied by hysterical cries of disbelief from his wife, children and brother.
An uninformed viewer watching the scene unfold could be forgiven for thinking that it was an outtake from an old KGB training film.
The sheer viciousness and cruelty on display in this incident are a disgrace to all men in uniform, and the Albert episode is a searing indictment of Israel’s police. The officers involved should be suspended and investigated forthwith, and they should face trial if they are found to have broken the law.
For the past five years, the police have been using the M26 Taser and there is no doubt that it can be an effective tool in subduing suspects.
But police rules limit its use to one of two scenarios: self defense and as a means of restraining a suspect when no other will suffice. Neither of these criteria applies to the Albert case and there can be no justification for the excessive measures used against him.
That, however, is not the end of the story.
For what makes this entire affair so troubling is the ostensible reason Albert was being hounded by the police in the first place: he had dared to enter his own home.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Albert is a resident of the Jewish community of Yitzhar, which is near Shechem (Nablus), and last month an army commander issued an administrative order which barred him from entering Judea or Samaria. The order gave no reason or justification, other than to state that there were “resolute security considerations” which warranted the move.
When Albert chose to ignore the order, which is clearly undemocratic and violates his rights, the police moved in, Tasers in hand.
It is simply unconscionable that in a liberal democracy, an army commander can issue an order compelling a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen to stay away from his own home. What kind of society allows such a thing? What kind of self-respecting legal system can tolerate such a capricious and arbitrary use of power against a civilian by the military? This is not democracy at work, it is the seeds of dictatorship.
If Albert is suspected of criminal activity, then let the police investigate him. If he is plotting acts of violence against others or against the state, then detain him. That is what the justice system is for. But we cannot and must not abide a situation where the rule of law is trampled so callously and effortlessly.
It is one thing to selectively apply administrative orders against terrorists, but quite another to do so against citizens of the state. Allowing the use of such measures opens a Pandora’s box that inevitably results in misuse and abuse of the system.
Is it possible that Albert does in fact pose some kind of threat to public order? We have no idea. And that is precisely the point. One of the distinguishing elements between democracies and darker regimes is the integrity and transparency of the legal process.
Not surprisingly, Albert was freed the next day by Judge Nava Bachor, who criticized the police for the manner in which they arrested him. But the trauma of the experience won’t be erased from Albert’s memory, or that of his loved ones, so soon.
It is time for the government to do away with the use of administrative orders against Israeli citizens. The right to sleep comfortably at night in the knowledge that one’s home is a haven is as basic as it is fundamental to the democratic contours of our state.
As the 18th-century Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu once noted, “There is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of justice.”
Restrictive administrative orders against Israeli citizens are exactly the kind of tyranny we can and must do without.