The continued detention of Bedouin youths who were arrested during a violent protest three weeks ago is unjustified and aberrant, according to attorneys for the accused. The protest was incited in response to the government's plan to legalize some unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev while forcing residents of others to move.
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“The court is treating these minors like dangerous criminals,” said Attorney Saber Abu Jama, who represents eight of the demonstrators, including four who are still in detention. He argued that their continued arrest is unjustifiably harsh, since the minors have no previous criminal record.
Most of those who were present during the big demonstration against the Prawer Plan three weeks ago would agree it got out of hand. For about five hours, protesters at the Hura Junction burned trash cans and trees, threw rocks nonstop and injured both policemen and police horses. The police, for their part, used everything they had available to disperse the demonstration, including tear gas and water hoses.
Since then, the government has shelved the controversial resettlement plan. But the demonstrators and their families are still in shock over what they consider the authorities’ disproportionate response to the protest – a feeling compounded by the fact that six adults and four minors arrested at the time are still in jail three weeks later.
All have been charged with throwing rocks at policemen, vandalism, disturbing the peace and blocking roads. Their indictments read similarly. One, for instance, describes a masked and shirtless minor who threw stones “and shouted things in Arabic like ‘let’s go’ and ‘there they are,’” and notes that when a policeman tried to arrest him, he punched the policeman in an effort to get free. Another charge sheet describes a minor who fired stones with a slingshot “while shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [“God is great”] and other curses in Arabic,” then kicked the policeman who tried to arrest him.
The Southern District prosecution replied that it recognizes the importance of freedom of expression, including the right to demonstrate against government decisions, but the violence at the Hura protest was exceptionally severe.
‘Defendants are dangerous’
“The defendants’ acts show that they are dangerous,” the prosecution said in a statement. “These crimes were committed with severe violence, sometimes involving the use of weapons, against policemen doing their jobs.”
The court similarly concluded that “this was a violent event at which many policemen were injured and police vehicles and equipment were damaged.”
But attorney Aram Mahameed of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel dismissed this claim. “Such harsh steps haven’t been taken in the past, even against more serious crimes than those attributed to the defendants,” he said. “Even when there is prima facie evidence, and therefore grounds for detention exist, the law commands the court to consider releasing defendants via alternatives to arrest. And that’s especially true when we’re talking about an incident where people went out to fulfill their right to demonstrate.”
Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represented some of the social justice protesters arrested in 2012, said the arrests of the Bedouin demonstrators struck her as aberrant and seemed to have ulterior motives.
“There’s no justification for holding minors for such a long time when alternatives to arrest could be found,” she said, noting that adult defendants charged with similar offenses - including Palestinian defendants from the territories - have often been released by the courts.
“Detention at this stage [of the legal process] isn’t supposed to be a substitute for punishment or revenge, but it seems that’s what’s happening,” she continued. “There’s a total lack of understanding of the laws of arrest and a lack of proportion to the nature of the offense.”
When right-wing settler activist Baruch Marzel was arrested after 27 previous convictions for violence, Lasky noted, “The court released him to house arrest, and rightly so. But here, it’s all out of proportion.”