A sign in Be'er Sheva's protest tent camp reads, "Bibi, look yourself in the eyes," August 2011.
A sign in Be'er Sheva's protest tent camp reads, "Bibi, look yourself in the eyes," August 2011. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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When the Be'er Sheva police issued a demonstration permit to activists in the city two months ago, it came with two unusual strings attached: "No signs that damage Israel's name" and "The applicants will be responsible for the event."

The permit, signed by station chief Tomer Badash, was for the demonstration held in the southern city on May 12, one of many around the country. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel says the conditions violate the right to freedom of expression.

"We hope there is no need to explain that the freedoms of expression and demonstration also include the freedom to use expressions 'that damage Israel's name,'" ACRI attorney Sharona Eliahu-Chai wrote in a letter to Shaul Gordon, legal adviser to the Israel Police.

She said "the most important element of freedom of expression is to enable individuals and minority groups to voice opinions that differ from those of the majority."

Eliahu-Chai took the police to task for making the organizers responsible for the behavior of demonstrators.

"The role of the Israel Police is to protect the freedom to demonstrate and enable those who want to demonstrate to exercise this freedom, not the opposite," she wrote. "The very act of placing responsibility [for the demonstrators' actions] on the organizers profoundly deters anyone who seeks to organize demonstrations."

The Israel Police acknowledged that some of the conditions set in Be'er Sheva were "not in keeping with principle" and stressed that the force "does not interfere with the substance of protest, and certainly does not limit or prevent protests against the government and its policies. But the police are authorized to prohibit the waving of signs constituting incitement or calls for revolt."