Photo: Zoom 77
Hagai Segal
Photo: Zoom 77
Dark days in Israel
Arrest of rightist activists marks establishment of Israeli thought police
This past week, the thought police was officially established in Israel. The news of its creation was delivered on radio and television stations by a relatively senior police officer, Commander David Bitan, who heads the Lachish district. And this is what Commander Bitan declared, in a somewhat festive tone: “We shall prevent them from thinking that they can risk themselves and reach forbidden locations.”


Bitan was referring to a group of rightist demonstrators that declared its intention to hold, in Sderot, a ceremony ahead of a march in the direction of the Gaza Strip. A thorough examination of his words will reveal that this was not a case of a mere slip of the tongue. The district commander did not only intend to prevent the symbolic march, but also the mere malicious thought of holding it.


His above-mentioned declaration included yet another reference to thoughts, and was also backed up by actions: The night before the planned march, the police raided the homes of the organizers and detained seven of them, he said. They did not manage to march even one step in the direction of their destination, and it is doubtful whether they even thought of marching, yet they found themselves behind lock and bar.


The roots of this kind of police conduct go back to the summer of 2005, that hot summer where democracy was put on hold around here in favor of the mitzvah of disengagement. Back then, determined police officers stopped buses aiming to transport rightist demonstrators from Tel Aviv to the southern town of Netivot.


Those who hoped that some lessons were learned since then were being delusional. The Israel Police, which has never stopped leftist demonstrators en route to their weekly riot in Naalin or Bil’in, again made an effort to end a rightist protest prematurely. The police have a chronic tendency to forget that even the hilltop youth are allowed to enjoy free speech. It does not recognize their right to long for Gush Katif.


Judge saves the day

The various pro-democracy institutions don’t recognize it either. They remained silent when word of the outrageous detainment of the seven above-mentioned thinkers came out. Only the Kiryat Gat court, headed by Justice Nechama Netzer, saved the day. When the police brought the seven suspects before the judge in order to extend their remand, Justice Netzer almost detained the police officers. She in fact ruled that the police robbed, in broad daylight, the detainees’ right to protest and ordered to free them at once.


As the new internal security minister was preoccupied with other matters this week, perhaps it would be worthwhile to grant him another opportunity here to read what the furious judge wrote about the conduct of his people:


"The use of power and detention authority in order to avert this right of expression, beyond constituting a case of silencing others, indicates the arrival of very dark times across the State of Israel. Is it imaginable that the accused, whose only sin was being in Sderot or planning to reach Sderot, will be held, arrested, and possibly detained for another night, just because of their desire to protest? Woe on us if we reach days where people are scared to legally express their views, even through a protest or taking part in a legal protest."


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