The Israel Police have revoked at least dozens of pandemic-related fines issued at demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The fines were dropped after protesters requested to fight the citations in court, proving that they were not issued in accordance with regulations.
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The protesters were fined for “failure to maintain distance,” but in practice were being cited for “failure to obey a police order to disperse,” which is subject to a 1,000 shekel ($300) fine. In a number of instances, the fines were imposed at the beginning of a protest or when it was well underway, and without ordering the protesters to disperse.
The police said they do not have specific information regarding the types of citations that have been withdrawn.
Police began issuing citations after the cabinet approved a coronavirus regulation that allows them to fine people who are standing next to one another during a demonstration, even if they do not exceed the number of people allowed at a gathering.
But when a number of protesters who received the citations challenged them and asked for a hearing, they were surprised to be informed that their tickets were withdrawn.
One demonstrator, Idan Dorfman, was among the first to be fined. He was issued a ticket last September in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem for standing near friends, even though he said they were a considerable distance from one another. According to his account, police said they were too close to one another and even though they then stepped further apart, Dorfman received a ticket in the mail. He then asked the police for a hearing, and last week received the notice that the ticket had been withdrawn.
“As part of the police practice of hounding anti-regime demonstrators instead of protecting them, I was issued a political and illegal fine," Dorfman said. "The police knew that the ticket wasn't legal and that they would lose in court."
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Two others, friends who had attended a demonstration, received similar citations. They said police claimed that they were standing close to each other and do not live in the same household. They said they had never been ordered to disperse and that the protest was still underway at the time. The tickets mailed to them also listed their infraction as failure to maintain a two-meter distance rather than failing to obey police orders to disperse. They asked for a hearing. About three weeks ago, they too received notices that their citations had been canceled.
“I actually wanted a hearing," one of them said, adding that it would have been good to put "this whole circus and the story of the fines" to the test in court. "Even canceling it shows that there's still some logic left among the decision makers," he added.
Five other people who received similar citations and asked for a hearing told Haaretz that their tickets had been withdrawn. “It was just an attempt to deter people from demonstrating,” one of them said. All of them reported that they had not asked for the citations to be revoked, but immediately asked to go to court.
In response to this article, the police said that for close to a year, they have been enforcing health regulations enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include limitations on public gatherings to prevent mass infection. This includes issuing citations in appropriate circumstances, among them protests. “In addition, we should note that every request that is received to cancel a ticket is thoroughly considered on its own and on its merits, and only in appropriate and justified cases is the decision made to cancel the ticket,” the police added.