Detainees in anti-Netanyahu Protests: Police Grilled Us About Our Political Views

People arrested at the demonstrations report that police tried to get intelligence about protests and their organizers from them, asking if they identify with the right or left

Josh Breiner
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Police arrest a protester at Paris Square, near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.
Police arrest a protester at Paris Square, near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.Credit: rami shllush
Josh Breiner

Protesters who were arrested at demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem said the police questioned them about their political views, about the demonstrations’ organizers and about the protests’ organization methods.

Dozens of protesters have been arrested in the past few weeks during demonstrations at Paris Square, near Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street. They were handcuffed and bused to the police station. Fifteen of the detainees told Haaretz that in addition to questioning them on the offences of which they were accused – participating in a prohibited gathering and blocking traffic – police tried to get other information out of them, such as their political views and details about the demonstrations.

Uri Givati, 29, of Tel Aviv, was released with no restrictions after showing a video in court that contradicted the police’s version of the events of his arrest. He said the investigators first asked him about the demonstration’s organization. Then one police officer asked her colleagues: “Say, how do we phrase the question about politics?”

“She asked me what political side I’m on, right or left,” said Givati. “I said I wouldn’t reply to that, that it’s a disgrace. When you’re asked about your political views after being arrested for disrupting public order, you realize it is completely irrelevant. That what they’re doing isn’t only about investigating, but has a political context.”

Another suspect, who asked to remain nameless for fear of being harmed, said he had been asked if he had gone to the area that was “for Bibi or against Bibi” in the demonstration.

Following the detainees’ complaints, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to order the police to stop asking questions related to detainees’ political views during interrogations.

'Trying to get me to talk'

Ariel Bernstein, 26, of Tel Aviv, was arrested last week, and said he was first to be detained that night. “As soon as I got on the bus, the detective told me ‘suddenly you’re not a man, you’re not making a sound.’ He told me that from now on I have no rights and took my cellphone away.

"During the interrogation, I felt the interrogator was trying to educate me. He said ‘you’re a good boy, pity for you to get into these things. You didn’t demonstrate properly, if you hadn’t tried to be such a wise guy you wouldn’t be here at all,'" Bernstein said.

“I told him I didn’t come there to get lessons on protests from him,” Bernstein said. He too was asked questions that had no bearing on the suspicions against him, such as why and with whom he came to demonstrate and whether he opposed the prime minister.

A protester stands in front of a row of Border Police officers near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 23, 2020.
A protester stands in front of a row of Border Police officers near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 23, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Snir Klein, 27, who was arrested last Saturday night, was questioned about his knowledge of Arabic. “I didn’t understand what the purpose of the question was at all,” Klein said. “Maybe the cop thought I had Arabic writing on my shirt.”

Yigal Elhanan, 28, of Tel Aviv, said the policemen tried to get intelligence out of him, rather than details about the crimes he was suspected of. “At some stage I had the feeling they were trying to get me to talk with the help of an undercover policeman, who asked about my work as an education coordinator in Jaffa. He went on to ask about the demonstrations there – what I thought about them, if I knew what was going on there, if people threw stones there. I felt like he wanted to get a quote out of me saying that I support violent protests,” he said.

'You'd better sign'

In some cases the police demanded detainees sign on restrictions as a condition for their release, mainly to keep away from Jerusalem, despite the court’s criticism of the police for issuing these restraining orders, saying the move is an attempt to gag the public.

“The investigator told me ‘you’d better sign, because the judges here in Jerusalem are very strict with their terms if the police ask them.'" said Eliana Barbel, 30, of Tel Aviv. "I knew it wasn’t true, but someone else could have agreed to do it. One of the policemen told me ‘if it were up to me I’d keep you out of Jerusalem for good.' Finally, a moment before we were taken to court, they said ‘Okay, just promise you won’t cause any more disruptions at demonstrations’ and let me go, after a night in custody. I felt like it had all been a pretense.”

Police arrest a protester near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 26, 2020.
Police arrest a protester near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 26, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Some of detainees said the policemen were polite and the investigations went pleasantly. “Apart from asking why I demonstrated, I felt the questions were to the point,” said one detainee. “They didn't ask uncomfortable questions and I felt like the investigators also just wanted to get it over with.”

The intelligence these investigators are trying to gather from detainees – the way the demonstrations were organized, and the names of participants and organizers – indicates that the Jerusalem District Police believe the mass demonstrations will continue in the coming weeks.

A police source said they identified participants in recent protests that have taken part in leftist protests, especially in East Jerusalem, who are among those that remain at the demonstrations late into the night.

“According to the identities of the participants, we can tell if we’re going to disperse them quietly or violently,” the source said. He said non-violent protests are usually held in the early evening, along with blocking traffic in the Paris Square area. Later into the night, the clashes between protesters and police escalate and the special police commandos and Border Police join in, using water cannons.

Although protesters don’t identify themselves as leftists, police said they try to prevent far-right protesters, such as extremist group La Familia, who are identified with the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, from entering the anti-Netanyahu protest area. Police have also bolstered surveillance and technological methods to track down far-right activists who plan to come to the protest.

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