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Baseless accusations: Activists acquitted for 'Cast Lead' protest

Four and a half years after 16 activists were arrested in Tel Aviv for protesting Operation Cast Lead, a court acquits them of all charges. The question is why — despite video evidence showing they did nothing wrong — did the police continue to aggressively push to indict the protesters on bogus charges?

By Inbal Sinai, Social TV editorial

Protesters in white suits covered in fake blood arrive at Sde Dov Air Force Base in north Tel Aviv to protest Operation Cast Lead, January 2, 2013. The signs read: “You have children’s blood on your hands.” (Photo: Activestills.org)

It was hard to remain apathetic as difficult-to-digest reports arrived from Gaza during the Israeli attack in the winter of 2008-2009, known as “Cast Lead.” According to data from B’Tselem, 1,391 Palestinians were killed in the fighting (759 of whom were not combatants, and 344 of whom were minors).

A group of Israeli activists decided to stage a protest action at the entrance of Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov Airport, one of the Air Force bases from which planes attacked the Gaza Strip. The short protest, during which activists wore white suits stained with “blood” and laid on the ground for a number of minutes at the airport’s entrance, ended with the arrest and indictment of 16 activists. Last week, after three days in jail, thousands of shekels in bail and four and a half years of court hearings, all of the accused were acquitted. (Read the full court verdict in Hebrew.)

Despite the fact that it was a legitimate protest and despite the fact that the protesters acceded to the police’s orders, for some reason unknown, the officers on the scene decided to arrest them while they were standing on the sidewalk and causing no disruption to traffic, as can be seen in the video below, shot by David Reeb:

Still, for some unknown reason the police prosecution decided to file an indictment against the protesters, in which they are accused of attempting to enter a military base by force, among other charges. Contrast that with the video shot by Reeb, where you can see the protesters following request of the guard at the entrance — not to enter. Additionally, they were accused of preventing pilots from arriving for their flights, even though it’s clear from the video that the blockage lasted only a few minutes and that there were no cars waiting to enter the base.

If that wasn’t enough, the police prosecutor requested to indict the protesters with “rioting” after the officers ordered the demonstration be dispersed. This, despite the video, in which it is clearly seen that no such rioting took place. At least by the protesters.

The police’s problematic conduct, however, continued in court. In her verdict, Judge Hadassah Naor leveled criticism at one of the prosecution’s witnesses, specifically. “The testimony of the prosecution’s witness, Mr. Uri Elishkov, contradicts what is seen in the video. There is no choice but to reject the testimony; in the best case it is a subjective account and imprecise explanation of the events, and in the worst case, an attempt to present an incorrect and falsified picture of the event.”

We asked the police spokesperson for comment on the decision to indict, on Elishkov’s testimony and about protecting protesters’ rights. The police spokesperson decided not to respond to the questions we sent them. “With no relation to the specific request, customarily we don’t respond to judicial decisions in the media,” the police wrote in their reply. “In general, all judicial decisions, especially acquittals, are honored and the necessary lessons are taken from them.” The police spokesperson’s decision to evade the difficult issues raised in the verdict about the police’s behavior, both in the field and in court, testifies to its refusal to recognize the police’s role in a democratic society.

*In the data on numbers of Palestinian deaths and their identities, there are differences between the numbers provided by the IDF and those from B’Tselem. Idan Landau’s Hebrew-language blog addresses the disparity here and here.

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    1. On the ground, the police handled themselves quite well. Removing the head covering and masks would be standard, and I saw no untoward aggression upon arrest (although one police did have an apparently unused mini stinging whip); one police allows a protester, in cuffs, to make a statement to camera.

      Civil disobedience is about breaking the law. The only evident law broken in the film is obstruction of a through way. Prosecution indictments were an attempt to up the criminal penalties as deterrent, both in penalty and legal costs. The judge turned that back, while the legal, time, and social costs remain.

      This is this third court decision (both criminal and civil) almost in as many days reported by 972 where judges have refused dominant right national views. I take this as hopeful evidence that the courts are, at the pre-appellate level, asserting their independence, more than some other courts in similar social/cultural conflict have done. This is (partly) an elite battle, and its outcome is far from certain; and that, in the present circumstances, is a great victory.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Piotr Berman

      “The testimony of the prosecution’s witness, Mr. Uri Elishkov, contradicts what is seen in the video. There is no choice but to reject the testimony;…”

      It is not particularly Israeli problem, but when the Court is witnessing prosecutors and police offering false testimony, they have a choice that is amazingly rarely used, namely to levy penalties. For starters, perjury.

      By the way, is prosecution in Israel under the command of police? In itself it would be weird.

      Reply to Comment