Policemen convicted of assault on anti-disengagement activist
Officer pushed fingers into non-violent demonstrator's nostrils; deputy beat him severely.
A police officer and his deputy were convicted Thursday of assaulting a right-wing activist while he demonstrated against Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in June 2005.
Officer Eran Naim testified in Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court that he inserted his fingers into then 19-year-old Akiva Vitkin's nostrils and used them to pull his head over backwards in order to cause pain and neutralize him. Naim said that this was legitimate police practice.
Demonstrators on June 29, 2005 blocked a road in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, however Judge Chanan Efrati stressed that it was non-violent, and that Vitkin did not resist when police forced him to lie down. Judge Efrati deemed the officer's use of force excessive.
Naim's second-in-command, Abraham Eliran, was also convicted of assaulting Vitkin while he was in custody at Ramat Gan police station. Vitkin was handcuffed and seated on a table with his back against the wall. Eliran struck him in the face and stomach, saying "We will get you in the end."
He was referring to protest movement against then prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, under which Israeli settlers were removed from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, and the Palestinian Authority was given control of the Gaza Strip.
As Eliran beat him, Vitkin threatened to go to the Police Investigation Unit and file a complaint about him. Eliran responded to the threat by slapping his face, punching him in the stomach and head butting him.
Eliran then pulled Vitkin to his feet, causing his skullcap to fall to the floor. When Vitkin asked to pick it up, Eliran slapped him. Vitkin then turned to try and identify the other policemen in the room, at which point Eliran slammed his head into the wall and pushed him out of the room.
Eliran pleaded not guilty, and denied having committed some of the actions for which he was charged.
Officer Naim did not deny allegations that he had pulled Vitkin's head over backwards by inserting his fingers into his nostrils, however he did deny their significance. His attorney, Lior Epstein, stressed that this is a legal method police learned during specialized hand-to-hand combat training.
Both of the accused intend to appeal the judge's decision.
Judge Efrati emphasized that the central issue is the use of force by police, and the definition of 'reasonable and measured force' in the case of demonstrations.
Given that Vitkin was lying on the ground with one police officer sitting on top of him and two at his side, Judge Efrati said he could see no justification whatsoever for Naim's use of hand-to-hand combat techniques.
"Vitkin did not endanger the life of any of the policemen involved," Efrati wrote in his verdict. "These actions were unacceptably harsh, out of proportion, and totally uncalled for in light of the circumstances," he wrote.
Judge Efrati reiterated that the demonstration was neither aggressive nor violent.
He further rejected Eliran's version of the events in the room where Vitkin was held at Ramat Gan police station, and accepted Vitkin's testimony.