Police Drop Charges Against Activist Rabbi Who Fought Bedouin Home Demolitions

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, had been charged in after he refused to vacate premises in a protest over the demolition of an unauthorized Bedouin Negev village.

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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An Israeli Bedouin women speaks to a police officer in front of the ruins of a structure razed by authorities in the southern village of Al-Arakib, August 10, 2010. Credit: Reuters
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

An Israeli court has scrapped an indictment against a rabbi activist over his refusal to comply with a police request to vacate premises in an unauthorized Bedouin village that was slated for demolition.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the president of Rabbis for Human Rights, was charged with disrupting an officer after an incident that unfolded during a 2014 protest against the evacuation of the unauthorized Bedouin village of Al-Arakib in the northern Negev.

Police were dispatched to the village and began demolishing 20 structures that were erected in the area without permission from the authorities. In a show of opposition, residents of the village and social activists including Ascherman holed themselves up in a mosque that had been built in the cemetery adjacent to the village.

In September 2014, an indictment was filed against Ascherman that alleged that he lied down on the floor of the mosque and refused to leave. The indictment stated that he had to be removed by force and was arrested with a number of others. Initially he was investigated on more extensive changes involving obstructing the work of a police officer, trespassing and possession of property by force, but the indictment that was filed was more narrowly drawn.

Under questioning, Ascherman denied that he had been violent toward the police, claiming that they had actually struck him, kicking him, hitting him in the jaw and injuring him in his ribs and arms.

None of the other demonstrators were indicted, which Ascherman's lawyer, Shahda Ibn Bari, called selective prosecution on the part of the police. While the indictment against Ascherman was pending, he refused offers of a plea agreement or mediation.

On February 28, Ibn Bari asked the court to order the police to produce the material from the investigation of the other protesters in the incident, a request that the district court granted. Instead of supplying the information, the prosecutor's office filed a request asking that the indictment be withdrawn, and the court complied.

The police told Haaretz that "in light of the passage of time and the absence of any further entanglements with criminality on the accused's part it was decided to close the case against him." Ascherman told Haaretz the police had no evidence linking him to a criminal offense. "The really important thing in this story is the injustice that was done to the residents of Al-Arakib, whose homes are being destroyed again and again."