Protesters in Israel and West Bank Face Increasing Restrictions, Report Finds

Annual assessment released by Association for Civil Rights in Israel cites various means employed to silence participants in social protests, as well as in anti-occupation demonstrations.

In its annual assessment of human rights in Israel and the territories, scheduled for release today, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel points to increasing efforts to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Among other issues, the State of Human Rights Report 2011 cites various means employed to silence participants in the social protest movement that began in the summer and claims that democratic debate in the country has been increasingly restricted in the face of the protest.

Tel Aviv protest - Alon Ron - 22.11.2011
Alon Ron

According to the report, some protesters were arrested and released only after promising "not to attend demonstrations in the near future," while others were summoned to conversations with police officers or Shin Bet security service agents, who warned them about the possible consequences of their behavior. The report's authors noted that despite regulations requiring police officers to wear a uniform with an identification badge at all times, increasingly officers confronted protesters without wearing badges and sometimes even with their faces concealed (for example, while dispersing a demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, during the demolition of homes in al-Araqib and also in Lod, while serving eviction notices in Silwan and while evacuating Havat Gilad ). The authors point out that part of the reason for the obligation of police officers to identify themselves is to deter the abuse of authority.

According to ACRI, the Israeli authorities deprive Palestinians living in the territories of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly by declaring all demonstrations, even nonviolent ones, as illegal gatherings. As such they are dispersed by security forces using means such as tear gas, water jets, a sonic device known as "the scream" that emits an intolerably loud, high-pitched sound and "the skunk," with its payload of foul-smelling liquid, in addition to the use of force.

The report documents several instances of political activists in Israel and the West Bank being summoned by security officials to "warning talks." They include an Israeli Arab who is active in Tarabut-Hithabrut, An Arab-Jewish Movement for Social & Political Change. He was called in for a police interview but was instead questioned by a Shin Bet agent about his political views and in connection to a demonstration he attended. In another case, an Israeli Arab university student was questioned about his political activities after taking part in a protest against Operation Cast Lead. A third example involved two activists from Anarchists Against the Wall who after their arrest were visited by a female Shin Bet agent who told them the agency was aware of their activities and would step in if they broke the law.

The report was critical of recent bills that have been submitted to the Knesset that the authors characterized as jeopardizing the basic freedoms that are the core of democracy, including the freedom of expression, assembly, thought and opinion. These draft laws include the "boycott law," which permits sanctions against supporters of an anti-Israel boycott and "discriminates against people holding certain political views and greatly hurts a legal, legitimate and nonviolent means of protest"; the Naqba Law, which makes it possible to deprive organizations that oppose the core principles of the State of Israel of funding and "does great damage to the freedom of political expression, to artistic freedom and to the right to demonstrate," according to the report.

The report also addresses issues including human rights violations against minors and foreign nationals being held in detention facilities in Israel and the territories, and the silencing of social rights in Israel.

Read this article in Hebrew.