Israel Police prohibited members of a left-wing NGO from exiting a Tel Aviv building on the eve of Israel's Independence Day, activists said, claiming that the lockdown was meant to prevent them from distributing postcards concerning the displacement of Palestinians during the War of Independence in 1948.
According to the report, members of Zochrot – an NGO working to inform the Israeli public of what the Palestinians call the Nakba, or, the Palestinian disaster in 1948 – police officers surrounded the group's offices, and barred the doors for four hours on Wednesday.
The activists planned to hand out postcards in Hebrew, Arabic, and English during Independence Day celebrations in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, which cite the names of villages from which Palestinians were uprooted and which were destroyed in 1948.
Liat Rosenberg, the NGO's director general, said that "as we were about to step out of the offices, at around 10:30 P.M., we discovered, to our dismay, that the police were already surrounding the building and had closed all the exits."
"The senior police staff at the scene made it clear that they were determined not to allow us to 'disrupt public order,' and so did not permit us to leave the premises," Rosenberg added.
According to the head of Zochrot, the 15 activists were trapped inside the buildings for close to four hours, with police officials indicating that they would allow them to leave if they agreed to hand over the materials, presented their identification, and agree to being questioned and searched.
"At the corner of Ibn Gabirol and Mane streets tonight, silencing entered a whole new realm, with a bitter taste of dark regimes," Rosenberg said.
An attorney present at the scene told the police officers that they had no cause to ask the activists to identify themselves, and warned that she could file a complaint for false imprisonment.
During a verbal exchange between activists and police, three NGO members were arrested, including Yuval Halprin, who wasn't inside the building, but who chose to read out the names of Palestinian villages in central Israel from outside the offices.
Eitan Bornstein, Zochrot's spokesman, told Haaretz that the incident represented a severe aggravation of the police's and the establishment in general, saying: "What we sought to do was to hand out postcards, not anything violent. There were people threatening to beat us, and they weren’t arrested."
Zochrot announced that the NGO would file a suit against the police for false imprisoning on Sunday.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) called the incident political persecution with the aid of the police, adding that, "needless to say, the police's activities had no legal grounds."
"Freedom of speech isn't suspected for Independence Day," ACRI spokesman Hagai Elad said.
Tel Aviv District police responded, calling the events an “illegal protest that was not authorized by the police.” Police representatives stated: “The police did not allow the protesters to reach the central event, display signs and create provocation, but did allow them to protest in an area far away from the central Independence Day event. Three protesters that caused a disturbance were arrested on suspicion for disrupting the peace.”