Israel convicted Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta, the operations officer of the police’s Zion District, of assaulting a demonstrator and a photographer during a protest rally against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in August 2020.
Judge Einat Ron determined that there was no justification for using force, saying, “The police are meant to protect demonstrators, and their role was to allow protesters to exercise their right to do so. … The illegality of a demonstration does not give police the right to use force,” she said. After the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Letzion convicted him, Guetta is expected to appeal his conviction at a district court, aided by attorney Adi Carmeli.
According to the indictment, filed in November 2020, Guetta commanded a team which blocked a march that began at the entrance to Jerusalem and was heading to the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street. Guetta pushed one of the marchers, Avichai Green, with great force, after the latter had complained to him about the conduct of his policemen. Guetta later violently attacked photojournalist Yalon Gurevich, who was documenting the arrest of another demonstrator. Gurevich’s glasses fell off as a result, and he experienced pain in his face and ear.
Guetta denied the charges and claimed that his conduct did not meet the definition of an assault. Even though he was documented striking Green, Guetta said in his defense that he pushed Green in self-defense, worried that he would be infected with the coronavirus, and “in order to continue with his work.” Guetta also claimed that Green cursed policemen and that the photographer tried to block him when he led away an arrested demonstrator.
Judge Ron convicted Guetta of two charges of assault and rejected his claim of having acted in self-defense. “The accused was not assaulted and was facing no threat,” she determined. She further noted in her ruling that she had found the versions of Green and Gurevich to be credible, and that their conduct had not constituted a threat or disturbed police actions.
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“It was not proved that they were a threat, and they could have been removed without resorting to force. The two plaintiffs were not atypical and could not be described as rioters. They could have been arrested, but this did not take place. They were not violent toward the accused or other policemen,” she wrote. The judge dismissed the claim that Guetta had shoved Green out of concern over being infected with coronavirus. Green plans to file a civil suit against the police and Guetta.
The evidentiary phase of the trial lasted more than a year, and the judge deferred hearings five times due to “court constraints.” Guetta continued working after the incident, other than the first 24 hours, and received the full backing of his senior commanders, with officers working with him serving as character witnesses during his trial.
Shaked Dahan from the state prosecution and the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police misconduct welcomed the ruling: “During the entire process our position was that Guetta’s conduct was grave and prohibited. The ruling reflects our position, by which every policeman is expected to act professionally and avoid resorting to violence, particularly when this is a senior commander who should serve as an example.” The maximum sentence for these convictions is two years in prison, but prosecutors are expected to ask for community service.
A Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem exonerated another senior police officer in February, after he was charged with assaulting ultra-Orthodox demonstrators ages 12 and 14 during a protest held during the pandemic. Prosecutors have appealed this, and the decision is pending.