Court Rejects Police Request to Bar Left-wing Activists Nawi and Butavia From West Bank

Police said activists are 'involved in provocations against Israel Defense Forces soldiers,' but judge rules request is an unacceptable infringement on their freedom of occupation and expression.

Ezra Nawi outside the Jerusalem District Court.
Olivier Fitoussi

A court rejected the police’s request to bar two left-wing activists from the West Bank on Thursday, terming it an unacceptable infringement on their freedom of occupation and expression.

Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia, both members of the Ta’ayush organization, were arrested over two weeks ago on suspicion of various crimes, including contact with a foreign agent. After several days in jail they were released to house arrest. Their house arrest ended on Thursday, and the hearing was called to determine the conditions of their release.

Police asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to bar the men from the West Bank for three months. They also asked the court to increase their bail and to extend an order barring the suspects from talking with others involved in the investigation.

One reason the police representative gave for wanting the men barred from the West Bank was that they are “involved in provocations against Israel Defense Forces soldiers.”

Nawi’s attorney, Eytan Peleg, assailed the police request, saying it stemmed from a desire to restrict his client’s political activity rather than from the needs of the investigation.

In response, police representative Avi Tivoni, said, “I know he’s involved in provocations against IDF soldiers and confrontations with soldiers as part of his activity in what he terms a human rights organization.” Peleg said this response proved his point that the police’s goal was political rather than the good of the investigation.

In response to a question from Butavia’s lawyer, Eitay Mack, Tivoni acknowledged that the head of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Roni Numa, had not issued an order barring the men from the West Bank, implying that the army itself does not consider them a danger.

Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter roundly rejected the police’s request.

“I found no support for the initial suspicions against” Nawi and Butavia, he wrote. “The corollary is that this invalidates the existence of relevant grounds for arrest.”

Moreover, he said, “The media uproar around this case and the fact that the case began with a journalist’s investigative report indicates that the fear of obstructing [the investigation] doesn’t exist in this case.”

Because he found no support for the suspicions against Nawi and Butavia, there is also no “investigative purpose that should be protected by the measures” police requested, the judge continued. Nor is there any real reason to fear the two would endanger anyone if left free of such restrictions.

Therefore, he said, the police’s requests should be rejected, “because in the absence of any basis [for them], acceding to these requests would restrict [the suspects’] liberty, their freedom of occupation and their freedom of expression to a degree greater than necessary.”