A police officer removing a demonstrator during a protest in Sheikh Jarrah
A police officer removing a demonstrator during a protest in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem on April 9, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Jerusalem Police will pay four leftist activists the sum of NIS 25,000 for arresting them without just cause at a demonstration in East Jerusalem, a Jerusalem court judge ruled on Sunday.

Activists of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement hold weekly demonstrations in the neighborhood of the same name, protesting Jews that continue to move into the mostly Arab area, claiming that they are displacing the current residents.

The arrests in question occurred in February in front of Jerusalem City Hall at a demonstration against the approval of building plans for the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which had been submitted by right-wing Jewish groups.

Police arrested four protesters at the demonstration – Sara Benninga, Dorit Argo, Matan Edelman and Tzvi Benninga – and wanted to release them only under the condition that they be banned from participating in protests in Jerusalem for six months. The court dismissed this request and the four were released unconditionally.

Police appealed the judge's decision to release the activists unconditionally, claiming that they had no permit for their protest and that it represented a threat to public security. The appeals court rejected these claims after watching documentary video footage that was filmed at the protest.

Lawyer Leah Tzemel, who served as power of attorney for the four activists, demanded compensation for the arrests. The judge agreed with Tzemel and awarded each of the four activists NIS 6250 in damages and expenses.

"The right to demonstrate or express an opinion is deeply rooted in the foundations of a democracy. It is the very air we breathe, and on its altar thousands of people have paid, and continue to pay, with their lives," wrote Judge Chaim Li-Ran in his decision.

"Therefore a society that aspires to be democratic must be extra-watchful with its emissaries, who are charged with protecting civil rights, for fear they will harm these rights," Li-Ran wrote. "They must be very careful when they trespass in this area and walk there on tippy-toes, as if walking on eggs."

"And here it turns out that in spite of everything the court has said, the police are trigger-happy with their arrests in general, and with certain groups in particular," Li-Ran continued.

The judge also criticized the police request to prevent the activists from participating in future demonstrations. "This is a worrying condition which I fear is actually an attempt to constrain freedom of expression."