Army officers who tried to prevent left-wing activists from attending a demonstration in the West Bank acted illegally and must compensate the activists, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled this week.
Judge Keren Azoulai ordered the state to pay activists from the group Ta’ayush 7,000 shekels ($1,930). The original suit had sought 80,000 shekels.
The incident occurred on September 22, 2013, when the activists sought to join a Palestinian protest vigil against a concert in the Old City of Sussia featuring Israeli pop stars Ehud Banai and Boaz Sharabi. The Palestinians were expelled from the Old City in the mid-’80s when it was declared an archaeological site.
At Beit Haggai Junction, soldiers barred the activists’ bus from continuing, citing a “rolling-out order” signed by the commander of the Judea Brigade at the time, Col. Avi Blut. A rolling-out order lets local commanders set up a temporary checkpoint in the West Bank and permit or deny passage based on their discretion.
Some of the activists eventually got off the bus and walked around the checkpoint. The soldiers made no effort to stop them, and they reached the vigil.
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Azoulai did not find the order to put up the checkpoint unreasonable, given the fear that clashes could erupt if a large number of demonstrators showed up. But once it was clear that the bus only contained a few protesters, the soldiers’ refusal to let it pass was unreasonable, she said.
A rolling-out order typically states that no person may pass through the checkpoint unless given permission by the officer who signed the order or another officer authorized by him. Such orders have been used several times in recent years to bar passage to left-wing activists.
Following the incident with Ta’ayush, the activists filed a complaint with the military prosecution, charging that soldiers had made improper and discriminatory use of the order.
But the deputy military advocate general, Harel Weinberg, decided to close the case without referring it to the Military Police for investigation. He said that the soldiers had acted legally under “an order forbidding acts of incitement and hostile propaganda,” and that the plaintiffs had sought to attend an “illegal assembly.”
In 2014, therefore, their attorney, Eitay Mack, filed a civil suit against the army. The suit accused it of making illegal political use of the order and discriminating against Israeli citizens merely because they were leftists.
The state’s attorneys rejected this claim, arguing that the activists needed a permit for the vigil. But Azoulai sided with the plaintiffs.
Mack was unable to get an answer from the military as to whether the settlers had requested and received a permit for the concert.