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Israeli activist sentenced to 3 months in prison for protesting Gaza blockade

Jonathan Pollak in a Tel Aviv Court Room 27.12.10 Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

Jonathan Pollak in a Tel Aviv Court Room 27.12.10 Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org

Of all the criminals involved with the 2008 Gaza war, an Israeli leftist will be going to jail for riding his bike against the war in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv Magistrates court judge Yitzhak Yitzhak convicted Israeli leftist Jonathan Pollak of illegal assembly for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass ride against the siege on Gaza and then sentenced him to three months imprisonment that will begin on January 11th, 2011. Pollak was the only one detained at the said protest, and was accused of doing nothing other than riding his bicycle in the same manner as the rest of the protesters. The conviction activates an older three-month suspended sentence imposed on Pollak in a previous trial for protesting the construction of the Separation Barrier. An additional three month prison term was also imposed for the current conviction, which will be served concurrently. His imprisonment is part of a clear strategy of silencing dissent in the Israeli left.

Jonathan Pollak is one of the founders of the Israeli leftist group “Anarchists Against the Wall“, which join weekly unarmed Palestinian protests throughout the West Bank against the Separation Wall and the Occupation. Since 2008, he has served the media coordinator of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, an Palestinian umbrella organization designed to garner media attention for the unarmed struggle in the West Bank. On his conviction, Pollak argued for his sentence, saying “I find myself unable to express remorse in this case … If His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.”

On January 31, 2008, some thrity Israeli protesters participated in a Critical Mass bicycle ride through the streets of Tel Aviv against the siege on Gaza. During the protest, Pollak was arrested by plain-clothes police who recognized him from previous protests and because, as claimed in court, they assumed he was the organizer and figurehead of the event. The protest was allowed to continue undisturbed after Pollak’s arrest and ended with no further incidents or detentions.

The arrest and subsequent indictment appears to be the result of police vindictiveness, rather than of Pollak’s behavior at the time of the event; Pollak was but one in a group of protesters who behaved exactly like him, yet he was the only one to be singled out. Moreover, environmental Critical Mass events take place in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but have never been met with such a response. Other protests, which have caused far more severe obstruction of traffic (e.g. the motorcade protest of thousands of motorcycles) did not result in arrests, and surely did not lead to the filing of criminal charges and imprisonment.

According to Pollak’s lawyer, Adv. Gaby Lasky, “The police not only singled out Pollak from a crowd of people who all did exactly as he did, but also singled out the entire protest for no reason other than its political alignment. Similar events regularly take place in Tel Aviv without police intervention, let alone arrests and indictments.”

During the trial, an Israeli supporter of Pollak was violently removed from the courthouse for wearing a shirt that said “there is no pride in occupation.” After the verdict was handed down, supporters began chanting in the courtroom against Israeli fascism and the occupation. They were forcibly removed one by one from the courthouse and subsequently held a demonstration on the sidewalk.

Despite evidence of Israeli wrongdoing in the course of the Gaza war, the only Israeli sentenced to jail so far is a leftist who choose to ride his bike through Tel Aviv in non-violent protest. The state of Israel sent a clear message with this verdict: that it will not tolerate dissent from the left. In fact, the state persecutor asked for a severe sentence in order to ‘make an example out of Pollak and those who engage in similar anti-occupation work.” Pollak said that he will continue to work with Palestinians against the occupation and repeatedly cited the much harsher verdicts given to Palestinians involved in non-violent protests. The only remorse that he showed was that he did not do enough to express dissent about the siege of Gaza. If peacefully riding a bike against violent aggression is a crime, Pollak said that we will happily go to jail. The fragility of Israeli democracy is on full display when one of its privileged sons can’t even ride a bike in protest of an aggressive and violent war on a besieged people.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Louis Frankenthaler

      The conviction represents one more example of Israel’s stalking of human rights defenders, social justice and solidarity activists. From Silwan to Tel Aviv human rights activism is under threat.

      Reply to Comment
    2. [...] Joseph Dana writes: Of all the criminals involved with the 2008 Gaza war, an Israeli leftist will be going to jail for riding his bike against the war in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv Magistrates court judge Yitzhak Yitzhak convicted Israeli leftist Jonathan Pollak of illegal assembly for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass ride against the siege on Gaza and then sentenced him to three months imprisonment that will begin on January 11th, 2011. Pollak was the only one detained at the said protest, and was accused of doing nothing other than riding his bicycle in the same manner as the rest of the protesters. The conviction activates an older three-month suspended sentence imposed on Pollak in a previous trial for protesting the construction of the Separation Barrier. An additional three month prison term was also imposed for the current conviction, which will be served concurrently. His imprisonment is part of a clear strategy of silencing dissent in the Israeli left. [...]

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      If it makes you feel any better, people protesting Sharon’s destruction of Gush Katif who blocked traffic were often beaten senseless, had limbs broken and given heavier sentences than this fellow. I can assure you that “progressives” are treated far more gently than other sectors of society who protest government policy.

      Watch this report from Israel Channel Two about the police violence at Amona, particulary after the 2:20 mark. Maybe some of you will enjoy this since it is settlers who are on the receiving end, but be sure that the police would never do the same to this Pollak fellow.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben,

      first, ACRI joined the campaign for the arrested settlers, something no rightwing person ever did in the opposite case.

      second, leftwing protesters have been shot by the army. show me the similar incidents with settlers.

      third, you write: “[rightwing] protesters [were] given heavier sentences than this fellow”. can you give examples?

      forth, the entire notion that because you feel the pain of the settlers, seeing a lefty sentenced too harshly make you happy is very telling. if the Right had some sense, it would have opposed the methods of the Shabak and the police with regards to both sides. because whatever is done to leftists right now could and would be done to settlers if Israel will eventually evacuate more settlements.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Israel

      Noam-
      I never said anything about how I viewed Pollak’s sentence one way or the other. I happen to agree with you 100% that political protestors have been treated harshly by the SHABAK and police and you are absolutely right that both sides need to get together to assure the democratic right to protest PEACEFULLY.

      Reply to Comment
    6. The only hope for peace for Israel and the Palestinians lies with Jewish activists like Jonathan Pollak. We in the west have sold our souls. AIPAC led US congress is blinded to realities in Israel. May, people like you and other peace activists around the world have a long and noble life. You truly are the future.
      Thanks for what you are doing.
      Zafar Khan.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Igor

      Because of the State Prosecution strike, murder suspects are released, pedophiles go free. But riding a bike for the wrong cause – oh no, we can’t let this one pass!

      Reply to Comment
    8. Ben, in your relentless quest for propaganda, you conveniently forgot that the right-wingers were granted amnesty.

      Reply to Comment
    9. [...] Dana, an Israeli blogger and activist who works with Mr. Pollak, explained in a post on the blog +972 that his colleague was arrested in January 2008, as he took part in a “Critical Mass bicycle [...]

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben Israel

      Yossi-
      I presume you are referring to the legislation that was passed fairly recently by the Knesset. That was five years after the events occurred. As I recall, it was also not a blanket amnesty but I don’t know under what terms it was given. This doesn’t contradict the view that “progressive” protestors are treatedly leniently by the system, because those at the top of the legal Establishment (Israel Supreme Court, State Prosecutors office, etc) more or less agree with the “progressive” political agenda.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Ben Israel

      Another good example of the pro-”progressive” bias of the legal system in Israel was the story of the “Voice of Peace” radio station vs “Arutz 7″ which was a right-wing Orthodox/Religious radio station. Both operated outside the legal framework of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Arutz 7 had its transmitter on a boat in international waters. Abie Nathan’s “VOP” was also on a boat WITHIN the territorial waters.
      The operators of Arutz 7 were eventually tried and convicted of the major crime of operating a radio station that hundreds of thousands of people listened to. Abie Nathan was NEVER prosecuted for this although his station was on for over 20 years IIRC. When then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein was asked about this double standard he replied something to the effect that, well, we have to start enforcing the law somewhere and we all just decided we will start with Arutz 7.

      When Nathan died, Israeli President Shimon Peres praised Nathan by saying something like he was happy that he (Nathan) didn’t obey the law (i.e. he was doing it the name of ‘progressive’ causes).

      Reply to Comment
    12. anti-Israeli

      “This doesn’t contradict the view that “progressive” protestors are treatedly leniently by the system, because those at the top of the legal Establishment (Israel Supreme Court, State Prosecutors office, etc) more or less agree with the “progressive” political agenda.”

      Got any alien abduction stories you’d care to share with the class?

      They’d certainly rank as far more plausible than the idiotic dreck you’ve been contaminating this forum with. As it stands, the only person jailed for offenses related to Israel’s Nazi abominations in Gaza, which nauseated the globe, is a protester who committed the grievous offense of riding his bicycle during a protest rally.

      Please save your comedic material for your next floor show in the Catskills.

      Reply to Comment
    13. which martyrer is portraited at his T-shirt?

      Reply to Comment
    14. [...] Facebook, in Hebrew (thanks to Ofer). Pollak is serving three months in prison for riding a bicycle during a 2008 demonstration against the Gaza onslaught. Apparently he is sharing a cell with men convicted [...]

      Reply to Comment
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