Court Orders the Release of the 19 Israeli Arab Protesters Arrested

'It is inconceivable that people go out and protest and they are oppressed in such a way,' head of Arab rights group says, claiming he was beaten by police: 'This is not democracy'

Jafar Farah, the head of the Mossawa Advocacy Center at the court hearing in Haifa, May 2018.
Abdullah Shama

The Haifa District Court ordered on Monday the release of the 19 Israeli Arab demonstrators arrested on Friday who were protesting against Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip, which left dozens of Palestinians dead.

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During the hearing for the protesters' detention, the Israel Police requested that the release of seven of the 19 detainees be delayed.

Jafar Farah, the head of the Mossawa Advocacy Center, was arrested Friday at a protest in Haifa against Israel's policies in Gaza. He was filmed walking on his own feet to the protests, but was later hospitalized and on Saturday arrived in court on crutches. He told the court that after he was arrested an officer broke his knee.

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa Advocacy Center, arrested in Haifa. He claims police broke his knee

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who oversees the police, said that "if a detainee's leg is broken when he is under arrest it is hard to say it is not unusual. When the police spoke with the officers involved, none of them said they were in physical contact with Farah. Therefore the facts raise questions regarding the medical findings. If there is an officer or commander that did not say the truth or acted violently and broke the law, then clearly they have no place in the force."

>> Police conduct sends a message: an Arab protester is first and foremost an Arab | AnalysisStill too ‘tough on Arabs’ | Editorial

Judge Amir Salameh accepted the police request to delay their release until 2:00 P.M. (Israel Time). The judge's decision emphasized that the detainees did not pose a threat. "Some of those who were accused of violence needed medical treatment themselves," the judge added.

"What happened in the past two days in Haifa is a shame on democracy," Farah said after his release.

"It is inconceivable that people go out and protest and they are oppressed in such a way: Physically harmed, beaten, humiliated. I felt it on my own body. This is not democracy."

Protest against Gaza shootings in Haifa, May 20, 2018.
Rami Shllush
Right-wing demonstrators flew the Israeli flag at the protest in Haifa, May 20, 2018.
Rami Shllush

Farah's attorney Hassan Jabareen, from Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, responded to the court's decision. "The court saw videos and the information, and police violence. In my opinion the trial was conducted as a trial against police violence and not a trial against the detainees," he concluded.

Police chief Roni Alsheich weighed in on the case Monday, saying that it was possible rights activist Farah was wounded at the Haifa protest  contrary to Farah's claim that he was wounded in the leg when he was detained by police.

"It's an illegitimate protest even in a tolerant country," Alsheich said, adding that "if someone did something unusual, we will deal with it firmly."

The police reported on Sunday that a preliminary investigation did not find any link between Farah’s arrest and his injury. “The arrests are necessary in order to restore public order and to prevent any harm to public safety” said the police announcement.

“The arrests were made lawfully and followed customary procedures. Despite attempts to spread rumors and cast aspersions on the actions of policemen at the scene the investigation so far has shown that there was nothing extraordinary linking the injury of one of the demonstrators to his arrest.” The police’s internal investigation unit will look into the incident.

Farah's wife, Asmahan Farah Atwan, ripped into the police, telling Haaretz that "this was a political arrest. They broke his leg but not his dream – a people's right to live in dignity. His leg will mend. But those who broke it will pay a heavy price. The [officer] and others who beat children under arrest will be dealt with legally – each will face a civil suit."

Hundreds of people attended a left-wing demonstration on Sunday night in the German Colony neighborhood in Haifa where they protested the killing of demonstrators in the Gaza Strip and the arrest of the demonstrators on Friday. Among the demonstrators were the chairman of the Joint List MK Ayman Odeh and MK Aida Touma-Suleiman. At the same time, a few dozen people demonstrated at another rally under the banner “returning Haifa to Israel.”

At the left-wing demonstration participants carried placards saying “We oppose the occupation,” “Jews and Arabs together,” “You won’t silence Haifa” and “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” They shouted: “blood-soaked regime, stop killing children,” “Fascism won’t be tolerated” and “Gaza, don’t despair, we’ll stop the occupation.” The right-wing demonstrators flew the Israeli flag, sang Hatikva and shouted “The people of Israel live” and “Our Father lives.”