Nine Israelis are suing the Israel Police for violating their freedom of expression and right to protest, in connection to a 2009 demonstration in Tel Aviv to support resistance to compulsory military conscription.
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Two of the plaintiffs were acquitted in 2014 of charges of assaulting a police officer and attending an unauthorized demonstration.
In their suit, which was filed in the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court last week, the nine plaintiffs are demanding 30,000 shekels ($7,500) in damages per person. They claim the police decided, in advance and in violation of the law, to prevent the demonstration from taking place.
At the start of a march in support of draft evasion in Tel Aviv in April 2009, when about 30 people had assembled, police officers ordered them to disperse. The demonstrators refused, and in the course of a verbal confrontation with the police one of the protesters, Nadav Franckovich, was arrested and forced into a police vehicle. While sitting in the vehicle, he called out to another protester, Oshra Bar, and she opened the door of the vehicle so Franckovich could escape.
The Police Prosecution Department charged Franckovich and Bar with unlawful demonstration and assault of a police officer. In May 2014, Judge Shamai Becker of the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court acquitting them on all charges. The police had no cause, pretext or visible reason, and in retrospect — even after hearing the testimony — not even a plausible argument, for ordering a small, completely harmless group of demonstrators, among them the accused, not to protest or to march up the boulevard, when the demonstrators were exemplarily maintaining public order, Becker wrote in his ruling. He went on to declare that Franckovich had every right to keep walking, even if it involved the use of reasonable and minimal force .. and even a slight shove (as the prosecution claimed) of a policeman who blocked his way.
It emerged during the trial that the police officers had orders from district commanders to stop the march as soon as it began.
In his incident report, the arresting officer wrote that the police had sought to prevent a confrontation over a demonstration against the Israel Defense Forces on a sensitive issue only days before Memorial Day.
In response to this argument, Becker said: It isnt the job of the police to worry about public morale, be it days before Memorial Day or any other day of the year.
Attorney Hisham Chabaita of the Human Rights Clinic of the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law is representing the plaintiffs in their suit. The lawsuit sends a message to the Israel Police that freedom of protest and expression are fundamental rights in the State of Israel, and that there is a financial price to pay for violating them, said Chabaita. It is also important that citizens be aware of their right to sue for damages when their constitutional rights are violated.