Editorial

A Brutal Denial of the Right to Protest in Israel

Protesters outside Avichai Mendelblit's home in Petah Tikva, August 18, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

In the four days since police guidelines regarding the allowed location and timing of protests in Petah Tikva went into effect – guidelines that include a limit on the number of participants, on the days and timing of demonstrations and on the use of public address systems – almost 30 demonstrators were arrested or detained after coming to protest what they see as an infringement on democracy.

On Friday, 15 activists were arrested and three others detained, including six in the neighborhood where Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit lives. Five activists, including one of the protest’s leaders, were arrested in front of the police station where the other detainees had been brought.

The arrests were documented and disseminated on social media. The violent removal of Israelis of Ethiopian descent from a public square led to two demonstrators ending up in the hospital, with a representative of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel suffering a broken arm.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, who went to the demonstration following these arrests, told Channel 13 TV that “all those fables they tell you about public disturbances are misleading. When a lawyer is dragged and handcuffed, when a lawyer coming to defend the arrested people can’t get their names, ending up under arrest himself despite his holding an attorney’s license and his previous service in the Shin Bet – that’s a disgrace.”

For 141 weeks, a handful of persistent demonstrators have been protesting in Petah Tikva’s Goren Square against Mendelblit’s handling of the Netanyahu cases. The protests take place on Saturday nights, and have been considered by the Supreme Court several times.

The court found a balance between the right to protest and the rights of nearby residents to peace and quiet. In one of the hearings, the police even sided with the demonstrators in their petition against the Petah Tikva municipality, which wanted to restrict them.

Lately the circumstances have changed, with the number of protesters growing and with other groups joining in, making it hard for residents to get a good night’s sleep, and things have reached a boiling point in the neighborhood. However, the protest and its intensification following the new police guidelines, the arrests and the violence, are legitimate. The police guidelines are limiting the freedom to demonstrate instead of permitting these rallies. It’s not the police’s job to determine in advance when and where this freedom can be exercised. Every citizen has the right to demonstrate at the time and place they choose, so long as they refrain from any criminal act.

The police must retract the limitations imposed on the places and times of demonstrations and allow people to protest, as decreed by the Supreme Court. Attempts to suppress these protests harm Israel’s democratic fabric, which in any case has been under attack in recent years.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.