Just what does “unprecedented levels” of police violence mean in 2023?
In an email to subscribers, Friends of Givat Haviva wrote that the recent long-lasting anti-judicial reform protests have brought out “unprecedented levels” of police violence against demonstrators. Haaretz has multiple articles referring to police violence, such as the latest entitled: Netanyahu’s Judicial Coup | Israelis Rally for 31st Week Amid Knesset Hiatus and Record Police Violence. Times of Israel also reports on complaints of police brutality, a particular strong word for police action taken with the purpose of opening roads to motorists to allow them (and ambulances) to travel unhindered to work and to home (and the hospital).
In considering the statement that there are currently “unprecedented levels” of police violence against protesters, I wondered if the protests against the 2005 disengagement from Gaza was accompanied by a lesser degree of police violence, given that it was sold to Israelis as an opportunity to see Gaza become a Singapore on the Mediterranean. However, an article I found that was published shortly after the withdrawal disabused me of that thought. For your convenience, I am copy-pasting here the entire executive summary. Called Israeli Government Violation of Disengagement Opponents’ Civil Rights, you can read the entire article here.
Since the passage of the Law on Evacuation and Compensation (“The Disengagement Law”) by the Knesset in February 2005, the civil rights of opponents of disengagement have been subject to extensive violations. These include the suppression of legal dissent, widespread police brutality, false arrest and the harsh use of punitive detention to deter and intimidate. These measures were taken against people who enjoy the presumption of innocence and starkly violate the Israeli justice system’s own longstanding norms.
These civil rights violations are not the exception. They are the inevitable outcome of the policies Israel’s legal system adopted to deal with protest against disengagement. The state prosecution service and the judiciary chose to see protest against disengagement as a form of rebellion, and authorized harsh measures against those taking part in it. Police were all but promised immunity from punishment for violations of the rights of disengagement’s opponents, and accordingly gave those rights little respect.
Unwilling to acknowledge that they confronted a genuine movement of nonviolent civil disobedience, Israeli legal and judicial authorities countered one phenomenon of mass illegal action with another of their own creation. Such behavior on the part of the authorities of a state supposedly under the rule of law is completely unacceptable. Its damages rather than upholds the rule of law and the prestige of democratic government.
Justices of the Supreme Court conflated nonviolent civil disobedience with insurrection and sedition. They viewed the opinions of protesters, rather than anything they may have done, as a threat to state security justifying inflated criminal charges and pre-trial detention. The views of the Supreme Court became the guideline used by inferior courts in their treatment of protesters. The theme of viewing the opinions of defendants as an element of their criminality recurs again and again in court opinions and prosecutors’ briefs.
Pre-trial detention was used for purposes not authorized by law: As a deterrent to others, to intimidate defendants and coerce them to compromise their legal rights and their defense, and to erode the legal guarantee of the right to remain silent. We have documented at least 97 cases of indictments filed against minors and 68 against adults in which pre-trial detention or other limitations on the liberty of defendants appeared to be unwarranted by law.
The General Security Service (GSS) was perverted from its brief to counter armed conspiracy against the state, to investigating ordinary crimes and nonviolent civil disobedience connected with disengagement. GSS involvement led to the unwarranted suspension of the civil rights and due process rights of those it investigated, and to the infliction of cruel and inhumane treatment in violation of international treaties. The GSS was also used to harass opponents of the Prime Minister engaged in legal protest.
This report examines in detail 24 cases of civil rights violations, falling under five headings:
- Treatment of minor detainees;
- Police brutality;
- Violations of due process and the rights of the accused, including false arrest and punitive and coercive pre-trial detention;
- GSS activity;
- Suppression of legal dissent.
Although some of the cases included here have been selected to illustrate issues of principle, readers’ attention is drawn especially to the following examples:
- The radical and dogmatic application of the standards set by prosecutors and judges for dealing with political opposition to the government’s policies led to the extended and cruel abuse of three young girls. A particularly disturbing theme in prosecutors’ briefs and even judicial decisions in this case is the notion that the opinions of these teenagers and their parents might constitute an obstacle to their release on bail. (Case 1).
- Shocking examples of gratuitous police brutality on one day and in one locality: Ramat-Gan and its police station (Cases 4 and 5).
- The abuse of pre-trial detention and the deliberate denial of due process caused a man to confess to a crime he may well not have committed (Case 10).
- The use of the General Security Service (GSS) to harass the Prime Minister’s political opponents (Cases 18 and 19).
- Suppression of perfectly legal dissent by the police (Cases 20-24).
Among our recommendations:
- All special directives regarding the treatment of opponents of disengagement should be rescinded immediately. Pre-trial detention should be used strictly in accordance with the nature of the offenses defendants are suspected of committing.
- The GSS should be withdrawn entirely from dealing with non-violent civil disobedience.
- The Police Investigative Unit requires strong leadership committed to defending the rights of ordinary citizens.
- Israel’s legal and judicial systems are responsible for a great professional and moral failure. A Parliamentary commission should investigate the nature of these bodies, how their personnel are appointed, and the legal culture cultivated within them.
Israel’s legal and judicial establishments have chosen to regard the struggle over disengagement as a kind of civil war to be fought by other, legal and quasi-legal, means. To win this kind of war is to lose it. The damage done to the legitimacy of the State of Israel by those appointed to defend it may prove greater than the worst they feared from the opponents of government policy.
Authors of the Study
Atty Itzhak Bam, in private legal practice, contributed to the preparation of this article. He studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received his LLM from Harvard University. He specializes in criminal law, administrative law, and civil rights cases.
Dr. Yitzhak Klein received his Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Department of Government and at the time this article was published, he was Director of the Israel Policy Center and responsible for initiating this report and seeing it through publication. He is currently Director of Policy Research at Kohelet Forum.
Shmuel Meidad is the founder and CEO of Honenu, an organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to soldiers and civilians who find themselves unfairly treated by the legal system.
Financial support for the study was provided in part by the Norwegian Israel Center against Antisemitism.
A Balanced Report?
The Jerusalem Post published a long article, the title of which gives the impression that it is all about police violence against demonstrators: How Amitai Aboudi became the poster boy for Israeli police brutality. Readers who take the time to read the entire article, however, and not just the title and snippet — thinking they know from that what the article is all about — will get a more balanced picture of the situation than is usually available in the media.