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  • ACRI

Suppression of Protests During Wartime

  1. Dispersal of protest and demonstrations

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."


The response we received (Hebrew) from the Police Commissioner disregarded the facts and documentation we attached; moreover, the dispersal of protest we warned about continued and even increased. Therefore, we again sent legal correspondence to (Hebrew) the Attorney General and urged her to take over the handling of the issue of protest.


2. Unnecessary license requirement


On December 3, 2023, we sent legal correspondence (Hebrew) to the Attorney General and the Police Commissioner following two cases in which the police demanded that organizers of small protests, which do not require a license, come to the police station and obtain a demonstration license. In one case, the demonstration was not approved, even though, according to the law, it did not require approval or a license. In a recent discussion in the Knesset Law Committee, a senior police official admitted that during the days of war, the police "coerced" protesters to "coordinate" with them in advance for any demonstration—a requirement that is essentially no different in nature from the requirement for a license.


In our correspondence, we reminded that even if, in certain cases, the police are authorized to impose restrictions on demonstrations that do not require a license, this does not justify obligating organizers to coordinate or obtain prior approval, especially when dealing with small or spontaneous protests organized quickly in response to ongoing events. We requested instructions to police stations not to interfere with the organization of a demonstration that does not require a license by submitting a request for a license, "approval," or "coordination," and to cease dispersing demonstrations solely because organizers refrained from submitting such a request.


3. Refusal to allow demonstrations that have already been approved


On January 10, 2024, we sent legal correspondence (Hebrew) to the Tel Aviv District Commander and the Chief of Police regarding a march and rally by the "Standing Together" organization entitled "Only Peace Will Bring Security." The organizers applied to the police for a license eight days ahead of schedule. The police held a lengthy dialogue with them, forced them to agree to hold the march on an alternative route, and even provided them with a signed document of conditions accordingly. About two hours after signing, and three days before the date of the event, the police informed the organizers that they had retracted their decision, and that the march and rally were not authorized at all. Despite police assurances that a decision would be sent to the organizers in writing, they did not accept it.


In our correspondence, the Field and Freedom of Protest Coordinator Sivan Tal and Public Inquiries Director Attorney Reut Shaer argued that the police's conduct violates the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression and protest disproportionately and contrary to the rules established in this matter by law and case law, and contravenes the police's duty to act fairly and reasonably. They claimed that dragging the feet of the police until the last minute without providing a response, so that the organizers also do not have a decision in their hands – in itself thwarts the holding of the event,  and it's hard to see it as acting in good faith.


The correspondence noted that the refusal to grant a permit for demonstrations due to controversial content had become part of the systematic conduct of the police during the war. Protest, even the smallest ones, of those portrayed as left-wing or anti-war elements, are rejected or encounter disproportionately restrictive conditions that reduce the effectiveness of the protest, silence the voices heard in it, and restrict it of content. This is contrary to the police's duty to ignore the content of the protest and the political and ideological affiliation of the organizers and participants.


4. Confiscation of signs with anti-war messages


Since the outbreak of the war, the police have systematically harassed demonstrators carrying protest signs critical of the war and the killing of civilians in Gaza, such as "Stop the massacre," "Stop the genocide in Gaza," "Stop the war," etc. Police officers remove and tear the signs out of the demonstrators' hands, sometimes violently and demanding that the demonstration or protest be dispersed.


On February 8, 2024, we sent legal correspondence (Hebrew) to the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General. ACRI's Freedom of Expression and Protest Coordinator Sivan Tahel and Attorney Anne Suciu clarified that the large number of cases and consistency shown by the police indicate policy, or at least systematic practice, and rule out the possibility that the signs are confiscated each time solely because of the unique circumstances of the case. The police even explicitly stated, in its position, that the "forbidden" signs express support for the enemy and offend public sentiment, and therefore it is entitled to remove them and even use force.


We argued that preventing demonstrators from waving signs, expressing their views threatens the purpose and effectiveness of their protest. This is especially the case with protest where holding up signs is often the only means used. We further argued that the police do not have the authority to intervene in the content of the protest and confiscate signs unless waving them constitutes a criminal offense, and that hurting public sentiment is not enough, in and of itself, to restrict freedom of expression in these cases.

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