Left-wing activists Ezra Nawi and Guy Butavia have filed a lawsuit against the Israel Police, claiming they were harassed by officers two weeks before they were arrested earlier this month. Their lawyer says the incident is part of a "deliberate policy" of persecuting human rights activists.
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The two men were taken in by the police following the broadcast of a TV show on January 7 in which Nawi said he had helped track down Palestinians who had sold land to Jews in the West Bank. Both activists are currently under house arrest as the police probe continues.
Their suit is over an incident that occurred in April 2014 when Nawi and Butavia set off to help Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills, as they usually did on Saturday mornings. A few minutes after they started their journey, the two activists from the Ta’ayush movement were stopped by a police patrol car on Jerusalem’s Metudela Street.
After pulling them over, the policemen made various allegations against the activists, the suit said. They accused the men of trying to hide something while the policemen were walking over. The policemen also said they suspected that a tobacco pouch in the car contained drugs; accused Butavia of not wearing a seat belt; and Nawi of driving despite the fact that his license had been revoked.
Following a lengthy exchange, the activists were taken to a police station, where they were accused of obstructing the investigation and of various traffic offenses. After eight hours at the station, they were placed under house arrest for three days, though that order was canceled after one day.
Yet despite the numerous allegations against them, the case was ultimately dropped on the grounds that no crime had been committed. Even the tobacco pouch was returned.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation of 112,000 shekels ($28,125) and is based on video footage of the activists’ exchange with the policemen, which seemingly contradicts the police report of the incident. The suit also charges that the harassment was intentional.
“This wasn’t the private initiative of a junior policeman,” attorney Eitay Mack wrote in the suit. “This wasn’t an exceptional incident, but a deliberate policy on the part of the defendant [the state], which grants legitimacy to persecuting human rights activists and opening futile proceedings against them, in order to harass them and to dampen public criticism of its conduct in the occupied territories.”
The police responded on Monday that the incident was a routine one “in which police noticed a person traveling in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt, and signaled to the driver to pull over in order to give him a ticket. In the course of the inspection, suspicions arose that the car driver was driving with a revoked license. In addition, a substance, suspected to be a banned drug, was found in the car. An investigation was conducted in a professional manner, which concluded that no criminal offense had been committed with regard to the confiscated items. Regarding the subjective claims that were raised in the lawsuit, the police will respond upon receipt of the claims.”
In August 2013, Nawi was acquitted of crossing a no-overtaking line after Traffic Court Judge Miriam Kaslassy implied that police deliberately sought to incriminate him, and even caused him to commit the violation in question by working in conjunction with an army jeep to force him to pass the latter illegally.
“It’s clear as day that this wasn’t a random enforcement action against a traffic offense spotted by a traffic policeman, but something more,” Kaslassy wrote. “A suspect must commit offenses of his own initiative, and there’s no place for causing him to commit them – especially not when it comes to traffic offenses. Had the road not been empty of traffic, the jeep driver’s behavior would have endangered not just its occupants, but also other drivers caught in the ‘game’ through no fault of their own.”
Meanwhile, Jerusalem District Court on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision to release Nawi and Butavia to house arrest, denying a police appeal.