Israel Arrests Activist Who Called for Protests Against House Demolitions on Facebook

Ayman Hajj Yahya spent a night in jail even though the police and his lawyers agreed in advance to the conditions of his release.

Jack Khoury
Yaniv Kubovich
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Israeli Arab home in Taibeh being demolished. January 24, 2016.
Israeli Arab home in Taibeh being demolished. January 24, 2016.Credit:
Jack Khoury
Yaniv Kubovich

An activist from the Israeli Arab town Taibeh was arrested on Sunday after posting on Facebook a call to demonstrate against home demolitions.

He spent a night in jail even though the police and his lawyers agreed in advance to the conditions of his release. The police announced that the activist, Ayman Hajj Yahya, and an additional man were suspected of obstruction of justice, but later asserted that the suspected offense had been inadvertently included.

When the police arrived in Taibeh, Hajj Yahya posted on his Facebook status: “The occupation forces are preventing me from going to the house. I will make every effort to get there. I call on everybody to come to the valley. The state, as usual, is stabbing in the back. Now they are going to destroy the valley region.”

The police arrested Hajj Yahya after he updated his status. The arrest was made “following calls on the social network to come and interrupt the demolition by disturbing public order,” according to the police.

Hajj Yahya was brought Monday to a hearing on extending his remand in the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court. The police request to extend his remand mentioned “a publication on Facebook calling for a gathering.” The request stated that Hajj Yahya was suspected not only of interfering with a police officer in the line of duty and participating in an illegal gathering, but also obstruction of justice.

When the judge, Erez Nurieli, wondered why the police suspected Hajj Yahya of attempting to obstruct justice, the police representative responded that this offense, which is punishable by imprisonment, was errantly inserted into the request. Hajj Yahya was released to his home at the end of the proceeding upon agreement to post a personal 5,000-shekel ($1,257) bond. He was also barred from using Facebook or other social media for 14 days.

Hajj Yahya was arrested along with five others, among them Ashraf Abu Ali. The police announced that Abu Ali “insulted a policeman and interfered with police work during home demolitions in Taibeh.”

The police stated that the others attacked officers, without saying who among the suspects acted violently during the demolitions. No one is seen using violence in the video clip presented in the hearing.

Nurieli, who ordered Abu Ali’s release, criticized police behavior in his decision. “Detention before submitting an indictment is meant for investigative needs only, in contrast to punishment or deterrence needs,” he wrote. “The question requiring a ruling in this request is not whether the suspect deserves punishment for the acts he is suspected of carrying out, or if his detention will deter offenders, but rather if and only if his detention is necessary for the needs of the investigation.”

The police on Sunday forcibly dispersed about 100 residents of Taibeh and Kalansua during home demolitions, arresting five of them. Residents said that the police dispersed them with stun grenades, tear gas and skunk spray, although they had not disturbed the peace or engaged in violence.

Sunday’s clash is allegedly the first time the Israel Police has used the malodorous skunk spray, which makes staying in the affected area unbearable, within Israel proper. Its use was limited until 2014 to the West Bank. Since then the police has used skunk spray to disperse demonstrations in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem.