Police Must Disclose Their Internal Crowd Control Rules to the Public, Israeli Court Rules

Judge anticipates the move will ensure police employ crowd control methods properly, and that the greater transparency will increase public trust in the force

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Protesters are sprayed with a water cannon in front of the Prime Minister's house on Balfour Street in 2020.
Protesters are sprayed with a water cannon in front of the Prime Minister's house on Balfour Street in 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Police must publish their internal rules governing the use of crowd control measures like water cannons, batons and stun grenades within 45 days, the Jerusalem District Court ruled Sunday—a move which will grant the public greater transparency on Israel's law enforcement agency.

Judge Yoram Noam said that disclosing the police's procedures is of great importance and rejected the claim that doing so would lead to demonstrators exploiting them. The ruling was issued in response to a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Freedom of Information Movement.

To date, the rules have been made public only in a censored form which obscures descriptions of the crowd control measures the police use and the way that they are employed. For example, water cannons are one of the police’s main tools when enforcing crowd control. But in the version of the crowd control rules accessible to the public today, many of the provisions governing their use have been redacted and replaced with the words “This article has been blacked out to avoid disclosing methods and tools.”

Police argued in court that publicizing all the rules would impede their work and lead to more violence, because demonstrators would “study the police’s operations and exploit weak points in their use of [crowd-control] measures,” leading officers “to employ excessive force” to compensate.

Demonstrators in front of the Prime Minister's House on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, in 2020.Credit: Oren Ben Hakon

But Noam disagreed, terming these claims “vague and baseless.” He said there was “never any justification” for not publicizing full descriptions of the crowd control tools that the police employ, and that information about how these tools are used “is of great importance” given the risk that peaceful demonstrators or even innocent bystanders could be hurt by them during police efforts to suppress disturbances of public order.

“At stake is the fulfillment of the public’s right to know, which relates to the fundamental rights of human dignity, bodily integrity and freedom of expression at times when police are using physical force through these tools,” he wrote.

Dispersal of anti-conscription protesters in Bnei Brak, in 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Moreover, he said, publishing the rules in their entirety is essential to enable scrutiny of the constitutionality, proportionality and reasonability of these tactics’ use. Aside from being necessary to ensure that police employ these crowd control methods properly, such scrutiny would likely improve the police’s performance and thereby increase public trust in the force, he added.

Attorneys Anne Suciu of ACRI and Rachely Edri of the Freedom of Information Movement welcomed the decision. “The police have far-reaching powers, including the use of great force against civilians,” they said in a joint statement.

“In a democratic society, there must be full transparency about what is permitted and forbidden when police are using forceful methods, to ensure scrutiny and oversight of the police and uphold the basic rights to bodily integrity, to life, to freedom of expression and to protest.”

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