Tel Aviv protest
Protesters clash with police officers in Tel Aviv on June 23, 2012. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Police officers violated protocol during the arrest of social protest activists in Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night, the suspects' legal representatives and police officials told Haaretz on Monday.

On Sunday, Tel Aviv Magistrate's court ordered the release of demonstrators who were arrested during a protest Saturday night, with Judge Tzachi Uziel rejecting and criticizing the police's unusual request to keep the suspect in custody. Uziel said that they do not have criminal records and that the police should have released them until the proceeding against them come to a close.

The judge also warned of an infringement on freedom of expression and the right to protest, saying these are "basic rights," adding, however, that "they are not unlimited and whoever exercises… them must do so while upholding the law and not causing disorder or harming public safety." He added that none of the suspects are charged with the damage caused to bank windows on Saturday night.

The police decided to indict 37 of the protesters arrested in Saturday's demonstration. Protesters said the police used excessive violence to disperse the demonstration, in which activists blocked major streets and highways and broke into branches of Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount banks.

On Monday, the protesters' legal representatives accused police officials of violating arrest protocol on Saturday night, saying the violations prompted police officials to release all but 14 of the 90 originally detained.

One violation mentioned involved the failure to fill out a report police regulations stipulates must be completed prior to the suspects' transfer to police detention, and which specifies the reasons for the arrest. This report then has to be presented to the court during the subsequent remand hearing.

In one instance, several dozen activists were being detained at the Gan Ha'ir mall near Tel Aviv's city hall ahead of their arrest. When the police bus arrived to take them away to detention riot police officers on the scene decided to skip the report.

A junior policewoman then reportedly reminded the officer of his duty to fill out the arrest reports, allegedly prompting the officer to shout at her and proceeding to escort the detainees on the bus.

In another instance, as a result of a change in watches, police officers gained custody over detained activists despite the fact that they did not know what it was the activists were arrested for. As a result, they could not fill out the obligatory report, since those would have been considered false.

As a result of such incidents, most of the 90 activists arrested on Saturday night were released, after, among other reasons, police officials realized they would not be able to present them at court.

Gabi Lasky, who has been representing many of those arrested, said that "if the police officers' reports were not made out and people were arrested for a full day and questioned, then that's the false arrest of those people."

"I have no doubt that the detainees that were brought before the court represent the cases where reports were filled out, with the rest released," Lasky said.

One police official said that, having realized that the reports were not filled out, some "police officers were told to go back to the protesters but they couldn't even recognize the people they arrested."

"As far as the police was concerned, officers could have arrived at the station later to fill out those reports. But even that wasn't done, and unquestionably it shouldn't have been done, that's probably the reason that most of those arrested were released," the police officials said.

However, despite the fact that the police held a large number of people without definitively knowing why in fact they were held, police officials still decided to take the deterring step of asking the court to remand all suspects to the end of the legal proceedings.

Effectively, this would have meant their incarceration for many months until their cases were discussed and culminated.

Police officers react to raucous rally

Meanwhile, conversation on policemen's' internet message boards show the conflict some police officers felt in confronting the popular protest.

"We're shooting ourselves in the foot," one officer intimated in one such message board, adding: "We'll lose nothing if we let go a little and let the citizens achieve something. Yes, for us too."

The police officer added that "in this country, nothing gets done without a little violence and noise (doctors, trains, airports, and so on). But we have to be the 'righteous ones.' God forbid we get stuck in an airport or in traffic over a protest."

"We mustn't forget that we have family members on welfare, some sick, invalid, and police officers who work like slaves. We mustn't be blind, self-righteous and disingenuous," he added.

Another officer said that there were "policemen who acted like felons, unbridled bullies, drunk off the power of the law. I am a police officer, an angry officer, one who's ashamed, disappointed."

"And no, I don't expect us as police officers to ignore those who riot and instill anarchy in the streets," he said, however adding that there was "a way to detain and perform arrests…. Where's the judgment? the gradation? (choking? pulling hair? kicking? is that reasonable force?)."

Police response: Riot cannot be linked to last summer's protests

Spokesman for Tel Aviv police district Ami Ben-David said in response that "Israel Police recognizes the importance of basic democratic values concerning the freedom of protest, congregation, along with the freedom of expression and opinion shared by all Israeli citizens."

"Police units and commanders were instructed to allow every expression of legitimate civil protest, while demonstrating due sensitivity and restraint in their dealing with the protest and taking determined enforcement steps against those who wish to break the law and spread chaos."

Ben-David added that "last weekend's riots, vandalism, and disorder cannot be linked to last summer's protest events."