“The use of the term violence in connection with police officers’ conduct at demonstrations is misleading. It isn’t that we have no violent police officers or police violence; the problem is in coordinating expectations between us and the protesters” − Commander Ayelet Elissar, deputy legal counsel to the police, at a session last week of the Knesset House Committee.
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“The law today does not require, in most cases, a police permit for a demonstration” − Commander Ayelet Elissar, same session.
In late June 2012, the Internet was flooded with clips and photographs in which Commander Yossi Shperling − a senior police officer in the Tel Aviv district − could be seen choking a young protester, Maya Gorkin.
The incident occurred during the social-justice protest of June 23, a day after the violent arrest of Daphni Leef and 10 other activists on Rothschild Boulevard. That demonstration marked an escalation in the social protest, with more than 70 protesters detained, a bank window smashed, and many pictures and video clips documenting violence on the part of the police.
Shperling faced disciplinary charges as a result of the incident, but has since been exonerated.
Some of the protesters arrested − among them organizer Daphni Leef − are still slated to stand trial.
Last month, the social activists Carmen Elmakayis and Sapir Slutzker-Amran made headlines after charging that police officers sexually harassed them in a lonely grove during a demonstration outside the home of Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Elmakayis claimed that she had documented the events on her mobile phone but was knocked down violently and handcuffed by a policeman, who took the phone from her and erased the footage.
A discussion held last week in the Knesset House Committee challenged the police’s version of events with those of the protesters. But right from the start of the session, the police representatives pulled the rug from under the MKs’ feet when Commander Ayelet Elissar − deputy legal counsel to the police − clearly admitted that the current law does not, in most cases, require a police permit to hold a demonstration.
Elissar’s words caused an immediate storm, and for good reason. In the past two years, the police’s main justification for forcibly breaking up demonstrations has been that they were held without a permit.
If no permit was required by law, how does the claim that the protesters failed to apply for a permit give the police justification to disperse them by force?
Here, Elissar switched to another line of defense. “In recent years,” she explained, “the protests have moved to private homes. It is very loud and bothers the neighbors.”
During that same committee session, Deputy Commander Avshalom Peled (Jerusalem district) claimed that police violence is not common and that at issue are a few bad apples. He also denied allegations that the police are trying to suppress the social protest. That very day, three activists from the group Lo Nechmadim (Not Nice) were summoned for interrogation under caution, without being informed about the nature of the crimes of which they are suspected.