The arrest of Haaretz reporter Gidi Weitz in midtown Tel Aviv on Monday should concern any citizen. Weitz was walking down the street and noticed two police officers questioning a Palestinian laborer on suspicion of being in Israel illegally. Weitz, who knew the Palestinian, stood at a reasonable distance and inquired as to the reason for the questioning. The police officers asked him to move further away, and when he declined, he was arrested.
Weitz didn’t shout, didn’t threaten, certainly didn’t use any force, but repeatedly identified himself as a journalist, but his interest wasn’t to the liking of the policemen – his ankles and wrists were cuffed, he was taken in a police car to the Lev Tel Aviv precinct, his shoelaces were confiscated, and he underwent a humiliating physical search. Only a last-moment intervention prevented his formal arrest and interrogation.
This is arbitrary and rogue police misconduct. Even had Weitz not introduced himself as a journalist, what reason is there to arrest someone on the street, for the sole crime of inquiring as to the reason they are detaining someone else? The fact that his hands and feet were bound increases the humiliation and abuse inflicted upon him.
This is not an aberration, but rather a troubling example of the police’s profligate arrest policy toward citizens, and the improper use of force by policemen. Should an ordinary person, whose behavior wasn’t to a police officer’s liking, or who dared to question the meaning of some action, find themselves cuffed, in a patrol car, en-route to arrest? Should citizens be at the mercy of junior patrolmen, sometimes intoxicated by the untrammeled power handed to them?
Weitz’s case clarifies how flawed police conduct is toward Israeli society's weaker communities: Ethiopian Israelis arrested just for sitting on their stoops when policemen demanded they identify themselves, for no reason. The same with Arabs, Haredim, settlers and protesters of all stripes.
The State Comptroller addressed the problematic issue of police arrests back in 2020. The Comptroller found that in three years the police made 123,000 field arrests, some of which included handcuffing the prisoners, none of whom were ultimately questioned for any crime, nor were these arrests reported to the public.
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It seems that none of this is troubling to the police. The officers in this case were not suspended, but rather received official backing, as Weitz was “interfering” with operations to locate illegal residents.
In a democratic country, a citizen is not supposed to be arrested like this just for showing interest in police activity, certainly if they are a journalist. A police force which behaves with such thuggery slowly but surely loses its legitimacy.
The police commissioner should urgently look into this phenomenon and act to eradicate it.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.