Hundreds of Arab citizens of Israel have been detained in recent weeks, including dozens of minors. Abusive interrogations and preemptive arrests suggest that many of the tactics of occupation have crossed the Green Line.
By Hagar Sheizaf (Translated by Ofer Neiman)
The murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir and the military onslaught in Gaza have brought about a wave of protest among Arab citizens of Israel. Reports on that wave should be supplemented by unprecedented data: more than 410 Arab citizens of Israel have been arrested on various grounds related to their participation in demonstrations since July 5, according to data provided by human rights NGO Adalah.
Moreover, police statistics reveal that a significant portion of the detainees in the past week are minors. Fifty-four minors are reported to have been arrested in the past two weeks in Israel’s northern district alone, comprising one-third of all detainees in that district.
Policemen outside the door
“I have been active for 14 years and I have never seen such a wave of arrests of minors,” says Ward Yassin, 34, from Jdeideh el-Makr. “The feeling is that the police have no red lines.” Yassin himself was arrested on Monday, July 7, the day after a demo that took place in his town, attended by around 200 people who were protesting the murder of Abu Khdeir, as well as the assault on Gaza.
The arrest of political activists like Yassin represents the second prominent group in the recent wave of arrests, of protest organizers and well-known activists in Arab towns. Dozens of demonstrations have taken place, receiving little media coverage, if any. Some of them escalated into confrontations with the police, which including stone-throwing.
“The day after the protest my wife called me, saying there were 30 policemen outside the house as well as a few inside, and they’re turning the place upside-down and searching,” Yassin recounts. A few minutes later, the police arrived in Acre, where he was at the time, and took him in for an interrogation, at the end of which he was told he was under arrest, along with seven young men from the village. All of them are minors.
“The police asked whether I had organized the protest and told me I was accused of stone-throwing,” Yassin says. “I knew the police took footage during the protest, so I told them to get the photos so that they would see I hadn’t done anything.” Yassin was released to house arrest the following day, after the court rejected the police’s request to extend his arrest. After his release, he continued to receive threatening phone calls from the police, saying that he would be arrested again if he continued organizing in the village. “I think they were surprised by the protest, and they wanted to deter us,” he adds. “Most of the participants were young, therefore young men became the target for the police.”
Confessions in Hebrew
During a series of protests held last week in Nazareth, minors were once more the main target of police arrests. According to reports, 11 minors between the ages of 13 and 18 were arrested immediately after the protest held in the city last Saturday. Most of the detainees were released after midnight, and according to testimonies, a significant number of them had not participated and were arrested for being present on the main road where it was held.
“Egregious violations of rights were committed, especially against minors; they treated them in a manner resembling a military regime rather than the arrest of citizens,” says Attorney Suheir Asa’d, who represented some of the detainees. “Minors were interrogated late at night, did not meet a lawyer, and their parents were not present during the interrogation.”
Minors are supposed to be protected by special laws, which prohibit interrogations later than 10 p.m. and require that the minor’s parents be notified. “The officer authorized interrogations without parental presence, seemingly out of fear of obstructing interrogation procedures,” explains Asa’d, “However, one must realize that in most cases this is authorized only in order to protect the minors, in case parental knowledge puts them at risk. In these recent cases, one can assume that the authorization was guided by the protection of police interests rather than that of the minors.”
The following day, another protest was held in Nazareth in the early afternoon. After it ended, 30 people were arrested, including 13 minors. Five lawyers waited outside the police station from the afternoon, trying to reach the detainees, but their entrance was not approved until 10 p.m. By then, all the minors, except for one, had already been interrogated. According to Asa’d, “[The police managed to] convince them that a meeting with a lawyer would harm them.”
When the lawyers entered the police station, they found out that the minors had to sign documents and confessions in Hebrew, despite the fact that most of them do not have sufficient Hebrew knowledge to understand their contents. Some of the minors remained in custody for several days after the protest, and were released under restrictive conditions, including restraining orders and long-term house arrests.
“We have testimonies about police brutality during arrests and interrogations following the Nazareth demo. Detainees told us they were slapped, kicked and cursed at,” says attorney Maisa Arshid, who was present at the police station that night. “One of the detainees I represented, a 19-year-old, was bleeding after he had been beaten by the police; he was not taken to the hospital until 3 a.m. Another youth who was arrested on Sunday recounted that after he was taken into the police station, the [policemen] took off his keffiyeh, peed on it and then wrapped it around his neck.”
The lawyers reported that minors had been arrested despite suffering from various medical conditions – from asthma to mental retardation. “Almost none of the Nazareth detainees are well-known political activists,” adds attorney Arshid. “Some of them were just passing by; one of them was holding a grocery shopping list in front of the supermarket when he was arrested. The offenses and allegations ascribed to the detainees are not necessarily connected to what really happened.”
Many of the allegations on which the police based its requests for extended detention are questionable, due to their wide scope and their being based on partial or missing information. For example, the detention of a 19-year-old who was arrested at the demo in Nazareth, and suspected of participating in an illegal gathering and of stone-throwing, was based on his presence at the scene – not on an allegation that he himself took part in the act.
It follows that the detainee’s arrest was extended on the basis of a serious offense that was not ascribed to him personally, but rather on the basis of the police’s perception of the detainees and those present at the scene in general. Furthermore, the lawyer in charge of the case says that during his interrogation, the detainee was asked about his political views on the issue of Arab youths refusing the draft, which is completely irrelevant to the cause of his arrest.
From Facebook to the police station
The political issue comes up again and again in the testimonies of the detainees. The fear that arrests and interrogations are a tool for suppressing the demonstration gets only more substantiated after hearing the story of Rafat Awaisha, 20, from Laqiyeh in the Negev. “I was arrested after I shared a post inviting people to a protest that had been scheduled for the very same day in Laqiyeh,” says Awaisha. “They called me half an hour later from the Be’er Sheva police station and came to take me from the [Ben-Gurion] university dorms.”
Awaisha was interrogated and released after an hour. Later that day, his parents called him from their home in Laqiyeh, and told him that the house had been searched. A short time later, he was held for another interrogation, at the end of which he was told he was under arrest. “During the interrogation, they asked me again and again about the post I had published on Facebook, claiming it amounted to incitement,” he says. “I asked them what an invitation to a protest had to do with incitement. But I received no response, only another barrage of questions regarding my profile picture.” Awaisha had changed his profile picture to a photo of Abu Khdeir. The following morning, following a few more hours of interrogation during which he suffered verbal abuse, was pushed and shoved, received no food and did not meet a lawyer, Awaisha was released. The protest in Laqiyeh, which he had promoted on his Facebook account, had already ended by that time.
On the same day, demonstrations were held in other Negev towns, including Ara’ra, Hura, Tel Sheva and Segev Shalom, to protest the murder of Abu Khdeir and the outburst of violence and racism towards Arabs. Mufid Abu Swilab, 30, from Segev Shalom, was arrested along with his brother two days after the demonstration was held in his town.
“My brother and I did not even attend the protest about which we were interrogated. However, the police claimed that we threw stones and incited the participants,” says Abu Swilab. “My entire police dossier was based off of intelligence information, and I wasn’t even at the scene.”
During the interrogation, Abu Swilab experienced humiliating treatment, with a few policemen addressing him as a ”terrorist.” According to his testimony, he met 30 minors from Ara’ra, Segev Shalom, Um Batin, Laqiyeh and Rahat during his detention, all of whom had all been arrested on charges of stone-throwing and incitement. Some of them are still under arrest, even though they also claim they were not at the demonstrations. Abu Swilab’s arrest was extended by five days, during which he was interrogated at length about his Facebook account. He was released two hours before his trial.
“They know that I am a social and political activist in my town and they just wanted to scare me, so they took me for a few days,” says Abu Swilab. “Last Friday there was a protest planned in Segev Shalom while I was detained. They brought me to an interrogation on Friday morning, and asked whether I was the one who planned it.” On the same day, the police published an announcement on a local website, which called on the residents of Segev Shalom not to attend the protest.
Like in the West Bank
The list of 83 detainees in the Negev over the past two weeks was supplemented last Wednesday by the arrest of Rateb Abu Krinat, the field coordinator for the Negev Coexistence Forum. He was released 24 hours later without any hearing. In another case, nine people were arrested in the town of Tel Sheva while sitting in cafe located two kilometers from a protest. The extension of their arrest was based, inter alia, on an offense based on the military law of the West Bank, and is not valid inside Israel.
Police are also arresting activists shortly before planned demonstrations in their cities or towns, and releasing them only after they end. In Acre, three key political activists were arrested shortly before a protest, and were released the following day. Prominent activists in Shfar’am were also arrested a short while before the demonstration; they received a restraining order ordering them to stay away from the city for 15 days. A prominent activist from Majdal Krum was arrested before the demo in his town, and received a similar restraining order for 15 days.
“It looks like their main objective is to thwart future political activity,” says Majd Kayyal, who works for Adalah. Kayyal, a journalist and political activist who has recently become well known due to his trip to Beirut and subsequent arrest, was arrested once again last Monday after participating in a demo in Haifa against the killing of civilians in Gaza. “I, along with two other activists, were arrested after the demo ended,” says Kayyal. “It was evident that the police wanted to release us on conditions that would prevent us from attending the protest that was scheduled to take place in Haifa that Friday.”
Hanging on to their homes
There is no doubt that the wide scope of arrests of young Arab men and Arab political activists in Israel signifies a deterioration in police treatment. Reliance on confidential intelligence as grounds for arrests, as well as the harsh treatment of the detainees, reminds one to some extent of the policy of arrests applied to minors and Palestinian political activists in the West Bank (as stated by some of those interviewed for this report). But could it be that the massive arrests of minors also points to increased participation of a young crowd in these demonstrations?
“Protests with a significant number of young people, some of them schoolchildren, took place primarily in Arab towns and villages and not in the mixed cities,” explains Fida Shehade, a political activist from Lydd. “In these places, there are only a few organized political venues and the young people stepped in to fill this vacuum by protesting in an independent and spontaneous basis.”
Some of the young protesters said they regarded Palestinians living in Gaza as role models for the struggle of those who are unwilling to give up their homes. “There is a certain generational change, and this is obviously related to Facebook as well – there is a flow of lots of information and photos. The young know what’s going on in Shuafat [East Jerusalem] and Gaza – they are more connected,” adds Shehade.
The fact that the protests broke out during Ramadan has also changed the rules of the game: more young people are awake at night, after Iftar, and many demonstrations start accordingly, late in the evening, carrying on into the night. “One has to understand that young Arabs who grew up after 2000 are living with a great deal of police presence around them.” says Shehade. “The encounters of many of them with Jews have been through confrontations with the police or other racism-filled interactions, and we are witnessing the outburst now.”
The spokesman of the northern command of the Israeli police had this to say in response:
The police has respected the public will to express their protest and has allowed it within the scope of the law. Since some of the protesters did not respect the terms of the protests and the instructions given by the police force at the scene, a few resolute and uncompromising enforcement actions were taken, and they brought about the arrest of the suspects, and life was restored to normal.
Since the beginning of the events and during the past two weeks, 175 suspects have been arrested in the northern district (121 adults, 54 minors) on suspicion of various offenses, such as: illegal gathering, stone-throwing, causing damage to property, jeopardizing human life on a transportation route, assaulting police officers and more. So far, 42 people have been charged on the basis of 29 indictments. The investigation continues and additional indictments are expected. The Israel Police is a national police force which belongs to all citizens of Israel and during the events of previous weeks, the police exercised tolerance and sensitivity, without any discrimination towards individuals and groups of society, while maintaining order and the citizen’s personal security.
We would like to praise the local leadership, which has assisted the police in calming the protestors, and has chosen to take all measures to prevent any damage to the existing fabric of relations between all religions in the northern district. We reject allegations raised in your letter, according to which the northern district police has implemented a policy of preventive arrests, and we stress that the arrests of suspects took place on the basis of suspicion that criminal offenses had been committed, and in accordance with the grounds stipulated by the law. Regarding the claims made by protesters as presented in your letter, these may be referred to the appropriate authority so that they can be checked in detail.
From the spokeswoman of the Negev district:
The officers of the Negev region in the southern district have arrested 83 people suspected of being involved in the disturbance of peace and stone throwing towards passing vehicles and the security forces, two weeks ago in the Negev. So far, 25 indictments have been submitted and additional indictments are expected.
The police respects the public’s will to express its protest, and allows for protesting under conditions of abiding by the law, keeping the peace and public order, refraining from damaging the people’s property, as well as respecting the lives of drivers and passers by. During the past weeks, incidents in which public order was disturbed took place, as well as stone throwing towards passing vehicles and police forces. These incidents escalated, and following comprehensive and poignant treatment by the southern district police, these have come to an end.
Read this article in Hebrew on Local Call.