Suppression of Protests During Wartime
On November 15, 2023, we sent legal correspondence to the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner regarding the conduct of the police in relation to protest vigils and demonstrations in the past week. In several events in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, the police immediately dispersed quiet, restrained, and non-provocative protest vigils, where demonstrators protested against the violations of freedom of expression and political persecution following the arrest of members of the Arab-Israeli Monitoring Committee and teacher Meir Baruchin. Meir Baruchin, a teacher from Jerusalem, posted on social media opposing the IDF's operations in Gaza while expressing empathy for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. Moreover, the dispersal of the protests was carried out with accompanying violence, curses, humiliation, and arbitrary arrests.
In a series of events from November 9-12, 2023, concerning protests against the arrest of Arab-Israeli monitoring committee heads, the police exhibited concerning behavior. Videos captured police forcefully dispersing peaceful protesters, making arbitrary arrests, and using excessive force even when protesters had distanced themselves. Protesters were beaten, dragged on the ground, and arrested without apparent cause, raising questions about the proportionality of police actions. Police also engaged in verbal abuse, calling detainees "traitors" and instructing them to "go to Gaza." These incidents suggest a troubling pattern of police misconduct, undermining the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.
In the correspondence, ACRI's Freedom of Protest Coordinator, Attorney Anne Suciu, emphasized fundamental rights to freedom of expression and protest: Demonstrations that do not include speeches (unlike calls and signs) on political topics, and especially small protest vigils with few participants, do not require police approval – neither in advance nor when they take place. When the police consider preventing a protest, they must disregard the content of the demonstration or the ideological background of the organizers or participants; and even in times of war, prohibiting a demonstration due to the fear of disturbing public order is exceptional and not the rule.
"We are aware of the heavy burden placed on the police these days," the correspondence states, "but even these circumstances cannot justify the severe conduct described above. The workload and tasks imposed on the police may justify exceptional cases of prohibiting a demonstration, but not a sweeping ban on any protest deviating from the mainstream, and certainly not the brutal beatings inflicted on peaceful demonstrators without any resistance on their part.