Interview: Falsely arrested for peaceful support of Jews of Ramla
Sometimes the wheels of justice turn excruciatingly slowly. Only recently, 17 Jewish men who were arrested in Ramla in May 2021, during Operation Guardians of the Walls, were finally awarded NIS 5,000 each as compensation for false arrest.
For Israeli society, the greatest impact of the May hostilities, other than in the southern communities near the border with Gaza, was felt in the joint Arab-Jewish towns, such as Akko, Lod, Haifa, Jaffa, Ramla.
I watched this from my home in Rehovot, so close to Ramla and Lod, and a world away. While I prayed that the security services would restore order quickly and as painlessly as possible, I did nothing.
But others did not sit with their hands on their laps.
Itamar (27, married plus one), a student living in the community of Eli in Samaria, went to Ramla in an act of support for the beleaguered Jewish residents.
He and three friends made their way to Ramla — not to engage in violence, he told me on a telephone conversation, but just to be there for the Jewish community. They saw a neighbourhood WhatsApp notification about going to Ramla and answered the call.
If a group of Arabs are causing chaos in the city, our just being there can give Jewish residents a feeling of security,
As he and others like him parked their cars at the entrance to a Jewish neighbourhood, they heard a gunshot. An ominous beginning.
Someone was organizing the volunteers who had come from across the country, and they made their way to the meeting point. About 50 people were there. They were instructed to just walk in the streets quietly, nothing more.
Itamar was amazed by what he saw. There were secular people, religious people, residents of Judea and Samaria – who came to show the Jewish residents of Ramla that they were not alone.
As they approached the city center, he and his friends broke away from the larger group. Seeing police at a junction stopping people from passing through, they found another way into the city. After walking about 100 meters, they met a Jewish couple with a baby who explained what was going on.
Standing next to a synagogue, they were told about guns being fired, about Molotov cocktails. During this conversation, police officers came and arrested them. It should be noted that while an emergency was declared for Lod and it was against the order for non-residents to enter the bounds of the city, that was not true for Ramla.
They were not told why they were being arrested. The couple told the police officers that Itamar and his friends had done wrong nothing at all. This did not seem to interest them, according to Itamar. He was angry because he had come to Ramla to help people at risk due to the Arab violence, and then it was he and his friends who were carried off by police and put into a cell.
Not far from them, as they were being arrested, a group of Arabs burned a police car, he said.
Itamar and his friend were held in the police station for four hours. During that time, dozens of people just like them passed through the station. Many talked about how their arrests were illegal and, while Itamar was angry, others seemed more resigned. He already knew that he was going to sue for false arrest with the help of Honenu, an Israeli Zionist legal organization. A lawyer from Honenu met them at the police station to guide them smoothly through the processing there.
During the interrogation, Itamar had the impression that even the police officers did not understand why they were being held. In the station, he said, a number of individual officers expressed agreement with detainees.
Itamar believes that the authorities just had to make the uprising stop — at any price. And that price was pulling in everyone who was on the street, “to sacrifice those in the field” — Ramla residents were not picked up in this sweep.
One absurdity was that after their interrogation, they were sent home for five days of house arrest and told that could not go to Ramla for 15 days. During the Corona pandemic, five days of house arrest does not seem like a big deal. But what was absurd to me was that they were unceremoniously released on their own cognizance from the station. They were not sent home in a police car or escorted by a lawyer who would guarantee that they would go straight home. Also, during their five days of house arrest, nobody checked on them. Out of sight, out of mind?
So what was the arrest for in the first place?
Overall, Itamar was left with a feeling of humiliation.
I mainly remember inexplicable physical sensations throughout that evening. I guess the events affected me more than I thought.
Anger was definitely there, mostly because of the humiliation. There was humiliation in a few senses – because of the very act of being apprehended, which included things like the body search, prevention of freedom of movement, the confiscation of personal belongings, and the very unempathic treatment at the hands of the arresting officers – not answering simple questions such as when we asked for the name of the policeman or why we were being picked up, feeling as if facing an impenetrable wall.
In retrospect, I can understand that the police were under a great deal of stress, and it makes sense that they avoided talking to us, perhaps they directed their energies to other thoughts about how to manage the situation in general.
But the fact is that we had come to support the residents, to do something good, and in the end we were the ones arrested.
At the same time, there was anger regarding the lack of justice there, not for us, but for our fellow Jews, the Jewish residents of Lod and Ramla.
No return to true coexistence
A video entitled “Five Days in May” (in Hebrew) shows how helpless the residents of Lod felt – and it is likely that Ramla residents felt the same, even if the intensity of the events was not quite so dramatic – and there were words of gratitude for the “outsiders” who came to their aid when police did not respond for hours or even at all.
In fact, one film interviewee remarked that the first time the police got involved was after an Arab citizen was killed by a Jew.
Arabs entered the yards of the Jewish neighbours, threw rocks through windows and, as documented in the film, one family’s apartment was completely burned. Some families left the city, and not all returned.
More than one interviewee said the situation is quiet now but the tension has not dissipated. A few doubt that relationships will return to the earlier level of trust and sense of living in a shared space.
Itamar told me that he would not hesitate to do the same thing again should violence against Jewish communities anywhere in Israel arise again.
This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in World Israel News.