Police detaining Daphni Leef
Police detaining Daphni Leef at a demonstration on Rothschild Boulevard in June 2012. Photo by Alon Ron
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In the High Court ruling striking down the law that lets asylum-seekers be jailed for three years without trial, Justice Edna Arbel notes that the right to liberty is fundamental to a democratic regime, and that any denial of this right must be done under clear and strict rules.

We should remember this statement in light of the Israel Police’s many arrests. According to prison service data and a report by the Public Defender’s Office, the arrest rate has risen 21 percent since 2005; last year, 62,000 people were arrested.

This steep rise came about in part due to the arrest of innocent people who were never indicted. There were also arrests for minor matters such as an argument on a bus, arrests of protesters in a way that stifled freedom of speech, and arrests that, even if they were necessary, could have ended a few hours later with the suspect’s release at the police station. Instead, the police brought the detainee to court the next day.

These many cases show the need for a fundamental change in the behavior of the police, who have not taken to heart the importance of the right to liberty and the obligation to ensure that a person not be arrested unless it is essential. The arrests of activists at demonstrations give rise to a suspicion that the tool of arrest is being used wrongly against activism.

As the national public defender, Yoav Sapir, noted, concerns are growing that the police are using arrests to deter and punish rather than for the limited objectives for which they were designed, such as danger to the public or the risk of obstruction of an investigation. Steps must be taken against law enforcement officials who empty basic civil liberty of meaning through false arrest.

In addition, the attorney general, and particularly the police commissioner, must stress to all levels of the police the importance of the right to liberty. They must be made to know that an arrest should be a last resort. It must be done with great caution.