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  • ACRI

Stop Police Use of Chokeholds During Arrests

sign says "I can't breathe"
Demonstration in protest of the death of George Floyd by US police. © John Gomez |

A chokehold is a method used to restrain and gain control of suspects and detainees, through which pressure is placed on a person's neck in various means. In recent years, many countries around the world have changed legislation, protocols, and guidelines, such that the possibility for police officers to use chokeholds has been banned or severely restricted, recognizing that various chokehold grips are equivalent to lethal force. In Israel, on the other hand, police officers continue to use this measure when conducting routine arrests. Chokeholds cause difficulty in breathing and are even liable to cause loss of consciousness. In many cases, the chokehold actually generates reactionary panic and resistance in the detainee, in an attempt to stop the sense of suffocation, such that its use produces the opposite result. Beyond the physical risk inherent in using this method, it is also severely degrading, violates human dignity, and has lasting psychological consequences.

On November 4, 2021, we appealed to the Minister of Public Security and the Commissioner of the Israel Police, along with fellow organizations, to stop police use of chokeholds as a means of conducting arrests, gaining control, or restraining. In the appeal, ACRI Attorney Anne Suciu provided documentation of 17 cases in which this measure was used over the past two years. The documentation indicates that use of chokeholds is not solely reserved for extreme cases in which it’s necessary to gain control over a suspect who has committed a grave offense that endangers their environment or the police, but rather as a routine means of restricting the movement of detainees for minor offenses, dispersing protesters, or transporting a suspect to a police car.

Physicians for Human Rights Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Association of Ethiopian Jews, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Clinical Legal Education Center, signed onto the appeal.

In response to our request, the police stated that on February 24, 2022, a directive was issued, clarifying to the police that "the use of strangulation will only be done in cases essential to taking control and proportionate to the seriousness of the offense."

In our view, the wording of the directive is unsatisfactory. Instead of clearly prohibiting or setting limits on the use of this means, the directive states: "The technique of placing a knee on the suspect's neck is not taught by the Israel Police and should be avoided as much as possible." This is a vague phrase, which has opened the door to widespread interpretation by police officers.

Following this, we again appealed to the police to refine and clarify the directive, and to stipulate, as has been done in other countries in the world, that police officers should not use strangulation as a means of arrest, seizure, or restraint, except in cases where there is a risk to human life. Earlier, we sent another request, in which we provided examples of cases proving that the directive did not change the situation on the ground and that police officers continue to use suffocation as a routine means of arrest and even to remove a person from the scene.

On 15.6.2023, we once again appealed to the Commissioner, following the accumulation of evidence and documentation from protests against police misconduct. The documentation revealed that the use of chokeholds continues to be a routine measure for arrest and removal of protesters in situations where there is no apparent risk from the individual and no justification for such extreme force. We argued that recurring and repeating cases show that the existing guidance is insufficient and demanded it be amended to include a clear instruction to cease the use of chokeholds as a means of arrest, seizure, or restraint, except in cases where there is an immediate and substantial risk to human life.

In the police's response, it was stated, among other things, that "the technique of chokeholds as a reasonable means for arrest is not taught. However, there are situations where the use of neck restraint (not a chokehold!) as a means of restraint and apprehension of a detainee is necessary." It was also mentioned that extensive work is being done in recent months on the use of force, and our request was brought before the relevant authorities "in order to emphasize the issue of neck restraint, chokeholds, and the use of restraint techniques."

The Association's appeal, 4.11.2021 (Hebrew)

The police's answer, 27.2.2022 | The text of the instruction (Hebrew)

The Association's appeal with additional examples, 31.3.2022 (Hebrew)

The Association's request for clarification of the directive, June 27, 2022 (Hebrew)

The Association's appeal, 15.6.2023 (Hebrew)

Police response, 7/2/2023 (Hebrew)

Links: "Moshe Steinmetz, Why does the police continue to use chokeholds to detain civilians?, KAN 11, 5.12.2021." (Hebrew)

The letters were written with the assistance of Field and Freedom of Protest Coordinator, Sivan Tahl, and attorney Eyal Luria Perdes.

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