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Expanding Use of Batons as a Means of Crowd Control

© Nikolaev |

On July 8, 2021, we appealed to the Police Commissioner regarding the use of batons as a means of dispersing demonstrations. The appeal follows a change in police protocol permitting the use of batons to contend with second-degree and low-level riots (known as Tier B), in which protesters neither violently resist nor pose a threat to people or property.

In their appeal, Attorney Anne Suciu and Coordinator of the Freedom of Demonstration Project, Sivan Tahel, claimed in the appeal that expanding the use of batons for such lower-level riots disproportionately endangers the bodily integrity of demonstrators seeking to exercise their basic right to freedom of protest and stands in contrast to the intensifying trend of baton-use in recent years, both in Israel and around the world:

  • Permission granted to police officers to use batons during Tier B incidents, stands in complete contrast to the perception that has guided the police over the years, according to which there is no justification for the use of such means in response to Tier B incidents;

  • The report released by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the evacuation of the outpost of Amona in 2006, addressed injuries to hundreds of people during this incident through use of batons, among other means. Following this grave outcome, it was deemed appropriate to raise the permitted threshold for the use of batons (from Tier C to D), which was indeed implemented;

  • The current decision to adjust the tier at which use of batons is permitted directly from Tier D to Tier B reflects a dramatic and unacceptable deviation from the police’s customary conduct over the past two decades at least, disregarding the great risk involved in the use of such means;

  • Such an extreme and sudden shift in the threshold permitting use of batons, after decades in which their use was prohibited beyond circumstances of particularly grave riots, is an unreasonable decision that seems to have been made hastily and without a thorough in-depth examination of the dangers inherent in this measure.

Having not received a response, we contacted the Police Commissioner again, along with the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, on November 24, 2021. We presented evidence that illustrates the grave consequences of lowering the bar for the use of batons: police officers unjustifiably beat demonstrators with batons at ultra-Orthodox and Arab-led demonstrations, during which protesters did not violently resist.

In their response, the police claimed that once a demonstration is declared an “unlawful assembly,” demonstrators are no longer deemed protestors but rather “rioters.” It was further claimed that lowering the bar aimed to prevent the use of harsher means, and that, in any case, baton use in Tier B riots aims to offer a means of creating a buffer between police and demonstrators, not to serve as a means of striking them.

On February 27, 2022, we submitted another appeal on the extensive use of batons against demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah and ultra-Orthodox protesters. We claim that the wrongful distinction between a "protester" and a "rioter" reflects the essence of the police’s prevalent problematic approach that leads to the sweeping and disproportionate use of force against demonstrators. Misconduct toward all individuals deemed “rioters,” in a space wherein an "unlawful assembly" has been declared, grants the police free rein to use force against anyone in the area – regardless of whether or not the individual violently resists. In the appeal, we also presented evidence from demonstrations in which police officers solely used batons to beat protesters, contrary to the claim that batons are only used as buffers. One of the documented incidents entailed an ultra-Orthodox protester who had his hand broken, and in other cases, baton strikes led to swelling and bruising among demonstrators.

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