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Crackdown on anti-Prawer demonstrations shows unequal right to protest

Under the banner of ‘Nakba in the Negev,’ demonstrations against a government plan to forcibly displace some 30,000 Bedouins from their homes in the Negev ended in 34 arrests, dozens of injuries caused by excessive police force, and very little media coverage or public interest.

In the West Bank, Israeli authorities do not respect the right to protest and any form of unarmed civil disobedience is considered criminal from the outset. In Israel, however, there are laws that are supposed to protect civil rights, including the right to protest. Earlier this week, thousands took to the streets to oppose the Prawer Plan, in an act of coordinated civil disobedience reminiscent of the “Days of Rage” of the First Intifada and Land Day protests. Reports of police using excessive force and violence came out of nearly all of the handful of demonstrations, leading to 34 arrests and dozens of injuries.

From Sakhnin and Haifa in the north, Jaffa and Jerusalem in the center and Be’er Sheva in the south, the protesters’ message was that the Prawer Plan constitutes a “Nakba in the Negev” – comparing the planned forcible relocation of some 30,000 Bedouin citizens to the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians upon Israel’s establishment in 1948. The Prawer-Begin Law passed its first reading in the Knesset last month and is being prepared for its second and third readings.

When Israel’s Channel 10 reported on the protests on Monday evening, it described the demonstrations as “violent confrontations” and even said demonstrators threw stones, an allegation based on police statements. (In researching this article I did not hear any reports of stone throwing.) The mainstream media coverage did not explain the Prawer Plan’s details, specifically, that no effort was made to include Bedouin community representatives in a decision that decides their fate – barring them from even presenting alternative plans. (For more information on legal implications of Prawer Plan.)

Protest against Prawer Plan in Be’er Sheva, July 15, 2013. (Activestills)

As pointed out in an article in Haaretz Friday [Hebrew], the Israeli media’s coverage of the day of protests – and the issues facing Bedouin citizens in Israel in general – is immensely underreported. As the writers argue, if Daphni Leef (a leading figure in the J14 social protest movement) had been arrested at one of the protests, Israeli media would have likely given it much more attention.

Reports of excessive police violence came particularly from the demonstration near Sakhnin, where a total of 14 people were arrested: one minor, three women and 10 men. Nine of the arrestees were still being held on charges of participating in an illegal protest, attacking police officers and resisting arrest, at the time of this report. According to Jalal Dakawar, an attorney with Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) who is representing those arrested in Sakhnin, two of the men arrested were taken into a room and beaten badly while in custody at the Misgav Police Station.

Attorney Dakawar told +972 that when the protest started in Sakhnin at around 5 p.m. Monday, the police and riot police actually facilitated the demonstration, allowing it to go on for almost an hour before suddenly announcing it was illegal and demanding everyone leave. But before even giving people the chance to disperse, police started firing stun grenades and tear gas into the crowd of about 500, police mounted on horses trampled protesters and subsequently began making arrests.

A Jewish Israeli demonstrator, Yoav Bar, who was at the protest in Sakhnin, told +972 that three stun grenades hit him directly, leaving him with injuries that required medical treatment. He added that he was standing on the sidewalk at the time and thought that police aimed directly for him.

According to Dakawar there were several plainclothes policemen (one can be seen on the left, in this photo of an arrest below) among the protesters. While he didn’t see it himself, Dakawar heard from several demonstrators who alleged the plainclothes policemen were the ones to throw stones (presumably in an effort to instigate and justify arrests, something that has been done in the past at West Bank protests, reported on last year on +972).

Protester arrested at anti-Prawer demo in Be’er Sheva, July 15, 2013. (Activestills)

While it is important to note that most of the protests were not issued police permits, they were non-violent. The fact that demonstrators blocked roads, waved Palestinian flags and screamed chants with the word “Nakba” does not, in my humble opinion, justify the way police aggressively repressed and dispersed them. The fact that these were citizens of Israel protesting made no difference to the Israeli authorities. They make it clear that on both sides of the Green Line, Palestinians’ right to freedom of protest or expression is either highly limited or non-existent.

This is hardly the first time harsh police treatment of popular protests is seen when it comes to Palestinian citizens of Israel, nor is it the first time that the Hebrew media failed to cover or comment on such events. Looking only at the past decade or so, two extreme examples come to mind: the first is the indiscriminate police killing of 13 demonstrators (and injuring of many others) in the uprising of October 2000, in solidarity with the outbreak of the Second Intifada. Those killings were later the subject of an official panel of inquiry (the Or Commission). As Hagar Sheizaf and Miryam Wijler write in the abovementioned Haaretz op-ed, one of the effects of the October killings was public criticism of the Israeli press, which failed to bring the story of the uprising from the Palestinian side and served mostly as a platform for police spokespeople.

Likewise, authorities also brutally oppressed mass protests against Operation Cast Lead by Palestinians in Israel. While thousands were out on the streets weekly, with very little media attention, police and the Shin Bet arrested and interrogated hundreds of activists. Prosecutors made threatening statements about “national security” in order to convince the courts to keep demonstrators in weeks and even months of detention while awaiting trial. At the very same time, arrested Jewish demonstrators were released after a single night of detention, as is most commonly the case with arrests of demonstrators. Once again, the oppression of dissent, much like the protests themselves, was widely ignored by the media.

Video of arrest in Sakhnin (very difficult to watch)

Video of arrest in Be’er Sheva:

Video of arrest in Damascus Gate, Jerusalem:

Haggai Matar contributed to this article.

Live blog: Protests across Israel/Palestine against Prawer Plan
‘When I look at the Prawer Plan, I see another Nakba’
Anti-Prawer protests sweep across Israel – A week in photos 

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    1. Philos

      The Palestinians, including Israeli citizens, should be commended for their incredible patience. I really don’t know how they put up with it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        They see what happens on the other side of the wall.

        Reply to Comment
    2. sh

      One video like this a day is already too much. I watched the Beersheva one. And this is only what they do to peaceful demonstrators. Sadistic brutes.

      Reply to Comment
    3. “According to Jalal Dakawar, an attorney with Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) who is representing those arrested in Sakhnin, two of the men arrested were taken into a room and beaten badly while in custody at the Misgav Police Station.” : This is a clear, exact allegation which, if true, can have no excuse. If the State fails to investigate and redress (if substantiated), one can have no faith in the rule of law applied to Arab citizens; what is then done in the police station shall occur in multiple forms elsewhere. There can be no clearer test for the rule of law.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Vadim

      Statement #1 : “(In researching this article I did not hear any reports of stone throwing.)”

      Statement #2 : “According to Dakawar there were several plainclothes policemen … among the protesters. … Dakawar heard from several demonstrators who alleged the plainclothes policemen were the ones to throw stones”

      While no stones were thrown, the ones that were thrown, were probably thrown by policemen. Seems legit.

      I wonder what the people who oppose the Prawer plan thought about the Disengagement plan? Israel decided to ethnically cleanse 8.5K Jews and relocate them. Were they consulted? Were their demonstrations treated fairly? How many liberals fought against it?

      I think the Disengagement was a huge mistake, and I think this plan is wrong as well (though because of different reasons). But if the state can perform one, it sure should be able to perform another. You can’t possibly be OK with the Disengagement plan but think this is somehow morally wrong (which it isn’t, regardless).

      Reply to Comment
      • Haifawi

        The Disengagement involved the removal of Israeli citizens from extra-national territory, under the temporary custody of the Israeli MILITARY. Prawer involves the removal of Israeli citizens from ISRAELI territory.
        If there was a plan to remove Israelis from Zichron Ya’akov (a place that existed before the State of Israel) and put them in townships somewhere else, THEN you could make a comparison.

        Reply to Comment
        • Vadim

          I don’t know why the IDF was used to move Israelis, should have been the police. Anyway, I don’t see how that makes a difference. In both cases, the government has decided on doing something, why is one case OK and the other not?

          There is no “put” in the plan. Every Israeli is entitled to live wherever he (or she) wishes. (well, maybe except Jews who can’t really live in Arab towns). The Beduins get compensated by the state for lands on which the currently live. Most of the lands they will be evicted from do not belong to them in any sense of the word, besides the sense where if I live somewhere for a period of time – I am entitled to the land.

          In both cases, people were evicted from their homes and somehow compensated for it. I’m not speaking of the justice of each case. Merely stating that people who have supported the forceful moving of a Jewish population should see no problem with moving others. Yet, the do.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Haifawi

      The IDF was used because Gush Katif was on MILITARY-ADMINISTERED land. There is a BIG difference between evicting SETTLERS from MILITARY-CONTROLLED territory and evicting citizens from Israel. It’s not a Jew/non-Jew thing, it’s a geography/citizenship thing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        What difference does it make who actually performed the eviction?

        Settlers and Israelis are not two
        distinct groups, there’s no citizenship issue and IS an Jew / non Jew thing. In both cases, Israelis will be evicted and compensated following a decision by the government. But look at all those “liberals” who were glad that Gush Katif was ethnically cleansed but shout at the top of their lungs when Arabs are told to leave lands they unlawfully live on.

        You either believe the state has the right to perform such acts or you don’t. You can’t have both.

        Reply to Comment
        • Haifawi

          Gush Katif wasn’t in ISRAEL. THIS is the issue. It would be like if there were US civilians living in Guantanamo Bay and the US government was like “oh, we’re evacuating Guantanamo.”
          Why can’t you understand that there is a CLEAR difference between MILITARY-OCCUPIED territory and SOVEREIGN territory?

          Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Capitals don’t make your argument more valid. Gush Katif is on disputed (certainly not occupied) territory and that doesn’t make the Israelis that lived there any less Israelis. We can argue about this, but it’s irrelevant.

            Reasons aside – in both cases Israelis are moved from one place to another.

            Now, you find one case just and another a horrendous crime. I think the exact opposite. That’s OK as long we argue about the reasons for the act, not the act itself. Justified or not, moral on not – both acts are either legal and legitimate or illegal and illegitimate.

            I find both cases legal and legitimate, I just disagree with the reasoning that caused one of them and think it was a mistake. When I objected it, I objected the reasoning, not the concept.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mike

            You don’t seem to understand one very important difference between the two situations. In one situation, Israelis were being evacuated from non-Israeli land, and in the other situation Israelis are being evacuated from Israeli land. Whether you like it or not, these situations are fundamentally different and have no comparison. This is called a false equivalence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            Again, you can repeat that claim as much as you want – it doesn’t make it any better.

            I can understand the difference you’re talking about, and know there are several others as well. I don’t understand how the place from which the Israelis are evicted could make any difference.

            I can understand that people who are convinced that settlements are bad are the only obstacle to “peace” would find ethnically cleansing Jews an inherently good act, not bound to any laws and totally different from any other. And fail to see that legally (not morally) these two cases are the same. Is this the case with you Mike?

            Reply to Comment
    6. To bring these comments back to the post, you will see, at about 40 sec into the video of arrest in Sakhnin, an officer deliver two quick punches to the groin to a man on his back, with another officer standing above; there is clearly no danger to these police at all. The punches are gratuitous, yet appear standard control for these men. I believe the man on the ground is likely to be an Israeli citizen.

      Reply to Comment