Israel just releases 17 Israeli human rights activists arrested on Friday in Sheikh Jarrah protest

The new activism by committed Israeli human rights groups who are against the Israeli occupation, and against Israeli injustice to the Palestinians, is impressive.

In the past, the more traditional Israeli protests, by what the Israeli media calls “left-wing” Israelis, usually took place in Tel Aviv or in West Jerusalem.

In the past months, a new coalition of Israeli human rights activists — who have not entered politics — has come to support Palestinians both in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem. Groups of younger activists from groups like Anarchists Against the Wall have been joined by more established and traditional (but no less committed) groups like Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Notable have been the Israeli human rights activism in Sheikh Jarrah, where the first two extended Palestinians were evicted by their homes by Israeli police and Border Police and then almost immediately replaced by young, militant, organized Jewish settlers, at the beginning of August. We have reported on this new form of Israeli — non-violent — activism, and its suppression by Israeli police and Border Police, previously here.

A new tradition has developed [over the past three months] of weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah on Friday afternoon (just before sundown, and the start of Shabbat).

This past Friday, 17 Israeli human rights activists were arrested by the Israeli police and Border Police — including the Executive Director of ACRI, Hagai El-Ad, and reportedly also the head of Rabbis for Human Rights. They were just released today — after spending almost 40 hours (36 hours, they reported later), including all of Shabbat, in jail.

Didi Remez reported on Facebook that “Four of Israel’s leading human rights lawyers defended the group at {befor} the Jerusalem Justice of the Peace, arguing that the dispersion of the protest was part of a campaign to stifle dissent and freedom of speech … Judge ruled arrests were categorically illegal”.

In a separate posting on Facebook, Didi Remez posted a message from ACRI attorney Dan Yakir in which Yakir wrote:
“Like every Friday over the last three months, last Friday, January 15, 2010, there was a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah against Jews moving into the neighborhood.
The police rejected the organizers’ request to march from the Hamashbir L’Tzarchan department store in downtown Jerusalem to Sheikh Jarrah, so 150 protestors held a protest watch in the neighborhood.
Even though this sort of protest does not require a license, within 15 minutes a police officer ordered the demonstrators to disperse and within a short time 17 demonstrators were arrested. One of the detainees was Hagai El-Ad, the Executive Director of ACRI, after he tried to no avail to persuade the officers there was no legal basis for dispersing the demonstration.
On Friday evening ACRI submitted a request to release the detainees, but the request was not heard.
On Saturday night the detainees were brought to the Magistrate Court and the police asked to release them on the following conditions: to require them to report for investigation, to pose NIS 5000 in bail and to stay out of Sheikh Jarrah for 60 days.
Lawyers Lea Tsemel and Tamar Peleg Sarik from Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Michael Sfard of Yesh Din and Dan Yakir of ACRI represented the detainees. After a two-hour hearing, in the early morning Judge Eilata Ziskind accepted our arguments that it was a demonstration that did not require a license, that there was no basis to disperse it and that the police had not substantiated the argument that there was a danger of disturbing the public order“.

A spokesperson for ACRI later told the Jerusalem Post that the organization “had not initiated the demonstration, but that [Hagai] El-Ad and other members attended it in order to monitor the conduct of Jerusalem police towards the protesters, not to demonstrate against Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah. The spokesperson said ACRI had received complaints about police conduct during protests for months before Friday’s arrests. On Friday, when El-Ad approached officers to complain about the arrest of protesters, he was himself detained, the spokesperson said, adding that it was the first time a member of ACRI had ever been arrested at a protest. On Sunday, El-Ad told The Post that he attended the rally as part of ACRI’s ‘efforts to protect freedom of speech’, adding that although the organization was not behind the vigil, on a personal level he sympathized with its organizers, calling what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah ‘a moral outrage’. El-Ad said that he believes the police arrested him because they thought he was one of the organizers of the protest, because he had approached them to tell them that their efforts to silence the vigil were illegal. El-Ad said he believes his arrest is merely part of the ongoing efforts on the part of police to intimidate protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, citing the over 70 demonstrators who have been arrested there in recent weeks … Following the arrests, Jerusalem police said that the demonstration was led by ‘anarchists and leftists’ who did not follow police orders and that if they continued to take part in illegal protests, they should expect to be arrested.” This article was published here.

UPDATE: A Haaretz editorial on the following day (Monday 18 January) said that “The arrest of 17 civil rights activists demonstrating in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on Friday and their detention by the police overnight represents another stage in the Israel Police’s get-tough attitude and willingness to infringe on freedom of demonstration, protest and speech in this country. The right to demonstrate is an important component of freedom of expression, and something which Israeli courts have enshrined as a ‘supreme right’. The detainees, who included the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai Elad, endangered no one and broke no law; their arrest was therefore nothing less than false arrest. Moreover, the police’s claim that the protesters had no license to demonstrate was rejected by a court, which declared that a protest vigil does not require a permit and there was no reason to disperse it or arrest the protesters. The only conclusion is that the police have decided to wage war on the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah and use force to end the protests, something they have neither the right nor authority to do … It’s the police’s duty to preserve order at demonstrations and no more, unless there is a reason to disperse protesters. But by no means should they prevent demonstrations from taking place. The arrest of the protesters for no reason creates the suspicion that the police have had enough of these demonstrations. It also shows that the police discriminate between demonstrators from the right and left. While right-wing activists run amok in the West Bank to protest against the construction freeze and are almost never arrested, civil-rights demonstrators are being detained in increasing numbers. The public security minister and police commissioner must stop this dangerous deterioration of their organizations. They must act immediately to closely guard freedom of demonstration and ensure that the police do not do anything to harm it. A society without protests is a sick society, afflicted by lethargy and complacency that breed evil. A police force that falsely arrests peaceful demonstrators is dangerous and harmful to democracy“. This Haaretz editorial, Dangerous Police, was posted here.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an American-Israeli who is one of the founders of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) Organization, was arrested last week during a candlelight solidarity vigil in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, protesting the recent evictions of some 53 UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees whose homes are now occupied by Jewish settlers.

Rabbi Ascherman wrote that “I was arrested there, the 36th person to be arrested since the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (Including 2 women from the RHR staff.) The situation leaves me angry and worried, because we are talking about a serious threat to Israeli democracy. Some of the arrests were ‘justified’, even though we don’t think that the police should have been there evicting families to begin with. However, the only crime of many of those arrested was their inability to accept the injustice done to the El-Kurd, Ghawi and Hanoun families. When I decide to engage in civil disobedience I know that I am likely to get arrested. In certain tense situations, I know that things are likely to get out of control, even if nobody on either side was necessarily planning arrests. However, here the police, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect the rights at the heart of democracy, have in a very calculated way been attempting to cut short and stifle peaceful protest. Under the cover of preserving public order, their goal has been to prevent expressions of solidarity or advocacy for these Palestinian families. The courts are also complicit in this when they reward the police with restraining orders as a condition for release, making it all the more difficult to organize. What happened? The vigil was quiet and there was a heavy police presence. I was helping the police and consulting with them, in order that participants would honor the police request not to block streets. We didn’t want to give the police an excuse for stopping the vigil. After an hour at the Hanoun family’ s house , we wanted to go to the Ghawi home. A police officer told us that we could not walk down the alley taking us to the Ghawi home, and directed us to take another longer route. Neither he nor anybody else said in any fashion that we could not walk along the longer route. At that moment a few officers called me from the other side of the road. I figured that they wanted to talk to me about some detail or other, and began to cross the street. A number of officers quickly surrounded me, some pulling me by the arms and others pushing me from behind. There were regular police, border guards and at least one plains clothes officer. When I asked what was going on and what my status was, I was told that I was detained and that I would be arrested if I didn’t come with them to the police car. When I asked, ‘Why?’, it was clear from their words and their tone that they had been waiting for the opportunity to arrest me. They said that the moment that we had begun to move we were holding an unauthorized march and that I was inciting people to participate in an illegal activity. I laid down on the sidewalk, and told them that I would not resist arrest but would not cooperate. Many tactics were used to draw out my arrest and incarceration for 22.5 hours, and I was given a 7 day restraining order keeping me out of Sheikh Jarakh (The police wanted 30 days, and we would have appealed even the 7 days if we could have received a court date in time.) I won’t go into details regarding the curses and kicks I received from officers (I have lodged a complaint with the Unit for the Investigation of Police), the fact that somehow the rumor was spread among right wing prisoners that I had attacked police officers, etc., because the real story is not about me personally. It should be superfluous to say that the connection between the police account of events and what actually happened was tenuous at best”…
Continue reading Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians