Petition: Tel Aviv Municipality Using Red Tape to Stifle Israel's Social Protest

Petition sheds light on the complicated bureaucracy facing activists who wish to erect a tent; attorneys say policy infringes on the right of freedom of expression.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel and five leaders of the social protest petitioned the Tel Aviv district court on Tuesday, demanding that the municipality drop its demand to receive a permit to erect tents in the city.

The petitioners, which include Alon Lee-Green and attorney Barak Cohen, argue that while the municipality can evacuate tents that are a public nuisance, the policy that prohibits erecting tents without a permit "is a severe blow to freedom of speech and reflects an unacceptable effort by the municipality to 'police' forms of protest."

Another petitioner is Tamir Hajaj, who erected the protest encampment in Rabin Square. The petition recounts the bureaucracy Hajaj had to overcome in order to attain a permit to erect a tent.

When Hajaj requested a permit he was sent to various municipality departments, and was required to supply detailed information as to the purpose of the tent, its size, placing and how long he intended to keep it standing. Afterwards, Hajaj was required to obtain a business license and a permit from the police and the fire department. In order to obtain the permit from the police, he was required to receive authorization from a safety engineer, an electricity expert and Magen David Adom, and to promise to have a security guard in the area of the tent. In order to receive a permit from the fire department, Hajaj was demanded to prove that the tent is compatible with standard requirement no. 5093 of the Standards Institution of Israel, titled "flammability of curtains in institutional or public use."

After acquiring all these permits, the municipality allowed Hajaj to erect a tent in Rabin Square for 9 days – instead of the 45 days he requested. Furthermore, the municipality forbade Hajaj to place chairs or mattresses in the tent.

Attorney Sharona Eliyahu Hai of ACRI, told Haaretz that "the Tel Aviv Municipality is loading the protestors with unnecessary bureaucracy, without legal authority, and the practical result of this action is severe damage to freedom of expression. There's a huge difference between preventing nuisances and demanding endless permits from those who wish to express legal protest. If this policy was applied last summer, the social protest wouldn't have been possible."

Attorney Avner Pinchuk, also of ACRI, added that "the association is familiar with cases where supervisors evacuated tents, when these were critical of mayors and heads of local councils. There have already been efforts to stifle local protests when these cause inconvenience to the local authorities. If the court recognizes this illegal policy of evacuating tents only because they lacked permits from the municipality, it will be a death blow to all forms of protest. The average citizen cannot purchase huge advertisement spaces and cannot always deal with local bureaucracy. Tents, placards and expressions of protest – are all basic rights in democratic states."

Protest tents outside a supermarket.