Three ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students were detained by police and forced to strip to their underpants and undergo a body search in the stairwell of a residential building during the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv last month, because they were regarded as “suspicious characters,” according to one of the detaining officers.
The three said they were not given any specific reason for being detained, but one of the police officers said to them, “We are detaining everyone we think might pull something – Haredim, Arabs, and we will also detain Ethiopians.” The three filed a complaint this week with the police ombudsman, and they plan to file a claim for damages against the Dan police station.
Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade was held June 25 under heavy security, with some 2,000 police deployed, after threats against marchers were received. The three yeshiva students, aged 18 and 19, had come to the city to swim at the gender-segregated beach. They said they had no idea the parade was being held that day. One of them said that he’d gotten out of a taxi at a spot around a 10-minute walk from the beach. While walking to the shore, he passed a security checkpoint at the entrance to the area where the parade was being held.
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“A policewoman asked me where I was going, and I told her I was going to the beach, and she told the policeman next to her that he has to search me,” the young man recalled. “After a routine pat-down I planned to go, but the policeman said, ‘Wait, there’s an officer coming.’” When the officer came, the young man was searched again, and was found to be carrying his tefillin, bathing items and a container with watermelon slices.
“They asked me ‘If you’re going to the beach, how come you don’t have a bathing suit?’ And I told them that I hadn’t come from the yeshiva, and that my friends were bringing me those things.” In response, the officer ordered the other policeman to search the youth again and to “strip him down to his underpants.” He was taken to a nearby residential building, where, he said, “They told me what to take off each time. They checked my socks, the seams of my shoes, they took my skullcap and started to turn it inside out to see that there was nothing inside. Then I noticed my two friends nearby.”
One of the friends said that when the two of them saw the first youth being detained by police, they tried to take a parallel route, but were detained by police officers on the other side of the street. “I asked a policewoman if I could refuse to be searched. She said no, but she also said she didn’t understand why I was being searched,” said one of the friends.
After an initial search, the two found themselves in the same residential building where the first youth had been checked. “My friend went in first, and then I went in. They told us to strip, to take off our shirt, our bathing suit. I asked the policeman why were they checking us and he said, ‘if one of [the pride marchers] was walking around Bnei Brak, I would be searching him, too,’” said one of the youths.
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The three were not the only people detained at the parade. When it was over, the police announced that they had arrested, “Around 50 people who were involved in various violations, including attempts to harm policemen and participants.” A day afterward, an examination revealed that all had been released with restrictions. It isn’t clear if these three youths were included among those 50.
The father of one of the young men said, “This simply infuriated me. Master of the universe, you stripped one guy and saw he was clean, why also do it to his friends? Part of the idea behind this march is that no person should be labeled, and now we find ourselves being labeled. They invaded the privacy of these kids, it’s really painful. It’s okay to suspect, but not to this degree.”
Attorney Menashe Yadoo of the Honenu organization, who is representing the three youths, said, “There was no suspicion that justified a search of any of them, let alone a strip search, which requires a reasonable basis [to suspect] that someone is hiding something on his person. There was no intelligence information about them, they had no criminal record and they didn’t even know there was a pride parade. This humiliation was solely based on profiling; the grounds for detaining them was the fact that they were Haredim.”
The police said in response, “During the pride parade the Israel Police were securing more than 100,000 people in a number of rings of inspection, including all those who came to march and all those present along the route. It should be noted that the police operated throughout the event to maintain public order and accordingly, the parade ended without exceptional incidents that posed a risk to participants.
“The incident in question is not familiar, and if the police get more details it will be properly investigated.”