Naji Abbas, who works for Physicians for Human Rights and is a former activist for the Hadash party at Hebrew University, was arrested around a week ago at a demonstration in East Jerusalem. After that, the police made sure he was kept in custody, until he was finally released on Tuesday. Naji’s previous arrest, which has since become his “criminal past,” was linked to his political activity and role in protests.
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Majd Kayyal, a political activist in Haifa, has a lot of experience in being arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service. At the beginning of the year, he was taken in for questioning after he published his poem “Gentrification Anthem.” (“Who is removing us from our homes, dividing them and renting them to us as a studio smaller than a coffin, who comes from Tel Aviv, or excuse me, who comes from Poland?” he writes.) He was arrested again at a demonstration in Haifa on May 9 and released to house arrest.
M., a 12th-grader from Haifa, was arrested at his home and later released to house arrest. A. 17-year-old from Kabul near Acre, was arrested at home on Monday and is still being held. K., a student at Ben-Gurion University, was detained during a protest on campus and is still being held. A., a political activist, was arrested at home in Reineh in the north and was released to house arrest outside his village. Y., a political activist in Jerusalem, was arrested around a week ago. He was kept in custody another five days before he was released to house arrest Monday night.
There are many others. In Haifa, at a protest over two weeks ago, 38 people were arrested, most of them students, artists and political activists. Most of them were released, with some ordered to stay out of Haifa for 50 days and a small number indicted.
According to the police, Operation Law and Order was supposed to settle accounts with “criminal elements in the Arab sector.” With their permission, I would suggest another name – Operation Intimidation and Silence – the punishment of young Arab men and women who dare to protest, under the guise of fighting crime.
This is not to say that there is no place for dealing with criminal elements in Arab society. Over the last decade, the Arab community has begged the police to do just that. But right now it’s just about settling accounts with other “elements:” the young, students and political activists, some of whom took part in protests in support of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and Gaza, or against police provocations and violence and the restrictions on the number of Muslims praying at Al-Aqsa.
Most of those detained were released without being indicted. The goal from the start was simply to intimidate. Arrests include threats such as “you’ll never be an engineer,” “you’ll have no career here” and “we’re marking you.” The result is that anyone who wants to get involved in politics knows he or she will come under surveillance. Big Brother is watching you, your posts, your tweets, your WhatsApp.
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In doing so, they’re trying to break the Palestinian national spirit of these young people. After all, it’s quite clear that no arrests on such a scale are being made against Jews. It’s an exclusive service available only to Arabs.
What turns a turbulent but legal protest into a turbulent illegal one? If we go by the police’s conduct, it depends on the protesters’ origins. So, maybe rather than making it so complicated for the police, it would be better to simply pass new legislation to complement the nation-state law and deem all political activity by Arabs a threat to the State of Israel and therefore illegal.