Israeli Ministerial Committee Backs Bill Empowering Police to Frisk Without Prior Cause

Bill, stuck since 2011, set to head to Knesset for first reading on Monday night.

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Israeli border police searching a man driving out of the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.Credit: AP

The Knesset on Monday evening approved the first reading of a bill to empower the police to stop and frisk people even if they aren't suspected of committing a crime

It passed by a margin of 39 to 21 with one abstention, and will now proceed to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The bill was first conceived in 2011 as part of a series of laws aimed at combatting violence in Israeli clubs, but stalled after its first reading. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said recently the police would use the law to battle the current terror wave.

"Today, when we see what the bloody price is for lack of authority, I hope the Knesset understands the importance of this amendment," said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. "In light of the unique security situation Israel faces, an urgent need was created to give the police tools to deal with the situation."

Erdan called on the public not to take the law into its hands and allow the police to maintain order, referring to the killing of Eritrean migrant Habtom Zarhum, who was shot by a security guard and beaten by an Israeli mob at Monday's terror attack in Be'er Sheva. "It is forbidden for an act like what transpired yesterday, in which an uninvolved man died, to repeat. Even when blood is boiling, the moment the danger has past, it is strictly forbidden to behave the way citizens acted at the scene of the terror attack. We will not behave like our enemies."

MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) said: "We are used to being checked at the airport and at mall entrances, what may sound strange to people in Switzerland, because Israel's security reality is different. I think that in light of the present security situation, this amendment is required. We have to legislate the law for a limited period."

MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) said the bill is not the solution but part of the problem. "The Police have many tools," he said. "Reasonable suspicion is very flexible. Giving up on this norm will create more hatred and more difficulties."

MK Ahmed Tibi (Joint Arab List) said this bill makes every Arab fair game for frisking. "Frisking has become the ultimate tool of intimidation against Arabs. You can make anything kosher with the security excuse. When this bill was raised in the context of youth clubs, it did not have a chance, and now when it is raised in connection to security, it has a chance."

MK Zehava Galon (Meretz) said that Erdan took a bill that the court had rejected time after time out of fear of letting every policeman to use his own judgement without having any clear criteria, and will allow the police to check anyone based on sight. She added: "Have we gone mad? The government wants to respond to a psychological need and mortally wounds human rights."

The bill describes a host of businesses in which the police will be able to conduct body searches, subject to the approval of the district commander and the affixing of warning signs at entrances. The list includes clubs and pubs.

However, the police are expected to make extensive use of one clause, permitting body searches in "a place that the Israel Police district commander declared temporarily as a place in which said search may be made, if it is a place where there is a special security risk or a place where intoxicating drinks are sold or served, and there is a real fear of violent crimes being committed there."

According to the Public Security Ministry's interpretation, the district commander will be able to declare all of Jerusalem as a venue where anyone could be stopped and frisked, without prior cause.

Currently, a policeman can only frisk someone if he has reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying a gun, knife or other object intended for criminal use.