The High Court of Justice rejects Wednesday a petition demanding the police be ordered to approve an anti-war demonstration in the towns of Um al-Fahm and Sakhnin, siding with the police that such an event “would divert critical manpower during a time of intense security challenges.”
Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) had petitioned the High Court to enable such demonstrations to go head in the face of stiff police opposition to such events at present, including that of Police Commissioner Kobi Shabbtai.
In a unanimous decision, Justices Isaac Amit, Yael Wilner and Ruth Ronen point out in their ruling “the unprecedented period of war the country is experiencing, facing Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, and in which the home front has suffered massive rocket barrages and other attacks.”
“Many policemen would need to be diverted for this purpose at the expense of emergency, lifesaving missions,” writes Amit in his opinion. He adds, however, that “the gates of protest, demonstration and processions are open also during times of war” and that the decision relates to the specific request made by the petitioners.
Hadash MKs Aida Touma-Sliman, Youssef Atawne and Ayman Odeh, during the Supreme Court hearing last Wednesday, November 8 (Photo: Zo Haderech)
According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who submitted Monday the petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of Hadash and CPI, “Despite the Supreme Court’s acknowledgment that the Police Commissioner does not have the authority to sweepingly prohibit political protests of Arab-Palestinian citizens, the court accepted the police’s claims of a manpower shortage, an argument that would be rejected if the petitioners were Jewish-Israeli protesters. The court expressed its concern that the police are maintaining a discriminatory policy. However, it did not reject the police’s racist assessments regarding Arab-Palestinian cities, which are rooted in their view of all Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel as a public security threat. The mere suggestion that the protestors should consider an indoor event as an alternative to their intent to express their position in the public sphere is extremely concerning. Therefore, the Police must approve any future requests of Arab-Palestinians to demonstrate; otherwise, it will be clear that they have no right to demonstrate during times of war.”
This rule follows a directive issued by the Police Commissioner to reject all permits for demonstrations in support of the Palestinian people in Gaza. This policy was detailed in a statement made by the Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai on October 17 during a briefing in the Northern District of the Police. He stated, “Anyone who wants to identify with Gaza is welcome; I will put them on buses now that are headed there and I will help them get to Gaza.”
In the petition, Adalah argued that the decision to prohibit protests, along with the sweeping ban imposed by the Police Commissioner, infringes the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and protest, political freedom of expression, and the right to equality. Adalah further argued that the police is seeking to pre-emptively censor legitimate political expression, solely based on the police’s disapproval of the protesters’ cause. Such censorship is evidently motivated by ideological or political considerations.
“It is even more crucial to uphold the fundamental freedoms of protest and political expression during times of war. However, it is becoming alarmingly evident that the current restrictions, which target Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all those who oppose Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, not only serve to quash dissent but also to label any form of Palestinian protest as illegitimate,” Adalah added.