Shameful Imprisonment

Non-violent demonstration is not merely the right of every citizen, but also the duty of everyone who wishes to fight against wrong.

Jonathan Pollak, an activist against the occupation and a leader of the group Anarchists Against the Wall, is due to enter Hermon Prison this morning to serve the three-month term to which he was sentenced for illegal assembly. In January 2008 Pollak took part in a protest by bicycle riders in Tel Aviv against the siege of the Gaza Strip. Some 30 riders participated in the demonstration, but Pollak was the only one arrested, tried and punished. His arrest should trouble every citizen who cares about human rights in Israel.

Pollak had participated in a peaceful, non-violent demonstration, which is not merely the right of every citizen, but also the duty of everyone who wishes to fight against wrong. In similar demonstrations that took place on highways, such as that of the motorcyclists against raising insurance rates or the demonstration by firefighters, no one was arrested. The fact that Pollak was the only one arrested in the cyclists' demonstration raises serious suspicions that he was being singled out by police and the courts because of his long struggle against the occupation.

Pollak's incarceration is a link in a troubling chain of persecution by the establishment against leftist activists in the country. Following years of arresting non-violent Palestinian demonstrators, Israeli activists are now also being arrested: Nuri al-Okabi, who was convicted of setting up an illegal garage, received an aggravated sentence only because he was an activist for Bedouin rights, as Judge Zecharia Yeminy stated explicitly. Mossi Raz, a former MK, was beaten by a policemen and arrested during a demonstration against the killing of a protester in Bil'in. Now comes Pollak's arrest.

In parallel with anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset aimed at curtailing the activities of leftist organizations - which peaked with the establishment last week of a committee to investigate the funding of left-wing organizations - the police and courts are coming down hard on leftist activists.

In view of the legal system's inactivity against rabbis inciting racism and against violent and law-breaking settlers, one cannot escape the feeling that this is politically motivated persecution. The fact that the police and the courts contribute to this persecution is particularly grave.

Pollak's incarceration is a dark day: not only for Pollak but for all those who fear for democracy in Israel.