Pro-Bedouin Protester Released to House Arrest After More Than Two Weeks Jail

No evidence that Eldad Zion was violent during demonstration, says judge, though he may have assaulted police later.

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A left-wing activist arrested during a demonstration against the so-called Prawer Bill two-and-a-half weeks ago was released into house arrest on Tuesday.

In ordering Eldad Zion’s release, the Be’er Sheva District Court rejected the prosecution’s appeal against a similar decision by a lower court. Nine Bedouin arrested during the same demonstration, including three minors, are still in jail.

Zion is accused of assaulting a policeman, rioting and interfering with a policeman in the line of duty. The Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court had ordered him released with restrictions a few days ago, but the prosecution appealed.

“He’s a dangerous man,” prosecutor Guy Zahavi charged at Tuesday’s hearing. “He has no fear of the law and comes out against the law.”

Responding to the argument that any danger Zion might pose was irrelevant, now that the Prawer Bill had been frozen, Zahavi countered, “first, the plan hasn’t been canceled, and second – this is as if someone murdered his wife and then claimed he’s no longer dangerous because his wife is dead.”

Judge Ariel Vago then advised Zahavi to “choose an example a little closer to reality.”

Zion’s relatives charged that his prolonged detention was meant to discourage additional demonstrations against the bill, which would regulate Bedouin settlement in the Negev by legalizing some unrecognized villages while forcing residents of others to move.

Vago ultimately concluded that there was no evidence of Zion engaging in any violence during the demonstration itself, though there was evidence that, after being taken to the police station, he grabbed one policeman’s shirt and shoved another.

Zion, 28, teaches Jewish philosophy at a Rishon Letzion high school and is active in the Arab-Jewish organization Tarabut-Hithabrut. In a Facebook post published two days ago, he wrote that he always tells students “the most problematic position from an ethical standpoint is standing on the sidelines in the face of evil. Since I view the Prawer Bill this way, I paid a solidarity visit to Rahat and then went to demonstrate at Hura Junction.”

At the police station, he continued, he was outraged to see slogans on the wall like “Moses ordered us to kill all the Arabs,” and even more so at seeing a policeman slap a detainee. “I raised my voice. In response, two or three policemen attacked me while my back was turned, took me out of the room, kicked me and broke my glasses.”

Zion’s parents, Shabtai and Bela, immigrated from the former Soviet Union about 40 years ago. “What’s happening here reminds me greatly of the trials of Jewish dissidents in the 1970s,” Bela said on Tuesday. “Eldad is a teacher of Judaism, a meditation instructor and a pacifist, and now they’re turning him into an enemy of the state.” Zion’s lawyer, Michal Pomerantz, said she wasn’t aware of any other case in which the prosecution had sought to jail a demonstrator until the end of his trial, even though he wasn’t accused of violence.

The Justice Ministry responded that it considered Zion’s behavior “exceptional in its severity,” but the court had ordered him released, “and we respect the decision.”

'Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,' reads a banner at the Saturday's protests.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz



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