Israeli activist arrested in Nabi Saleh and held in detention for 3 days on false charges

by Mairav Zonszein: +972 Magazine: 9 July 2012

IDF allegations that Israeli activist Elyakim Nitzany threw stones in Nabi Saleh had no evidence and no basis. Despite that, he was held in jail for three nights before being released. Another case of unfounded police claims.

Towards the end of the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh last Friday, a military jeep entered the village and a group of Border Police officers stormed out and arrested Israeli activist Elyakim Nitzany on the charge that he had assaulted IDF soldiers by throwing stones. (Two Palestinian women and an international activist were also arrested at the time, all of whom have since been released without charge.)

Read more on this issue: > Nabi Saleh: A tiny village’s struggle against occupation > Child arrested in night raid as repression of Nabi Saleh continues

Three days later, on Monday evening at about 6pm, he was released after a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled that there was no evidence to substantiate the soldiers’ allegation of assault. He was however indicted for “reckless behavior” and will face court proceedings for this charge. (In many cases, the very act of protesting the status quo can constitute “reckless behavior.”)

Attorney Gaby Lasky told +972 that the three Border Police officers who filed the claims against Nitzany requested that the judge hold him in custody until the end of proceedings, which could last years. The judge decided to release him Monday evening but barred him from engaging in any weekend popular resistance protests in the West Bank for the next the months – a highly irregular period of time.

According to Lasky, Nitzany’s prolonged custody was baseless and constitutes an infringement of his rights. “The same prosecution that demanded he be kept in custody reached the conclusion that there is no evidence to support the charge brought against him. In such a case, they should have released him [already on Friday] at the police station.”

In other words, since nothing changed between Friday evening and Monday, as far as the prosecution’s basis for its severe allegation of stone-throwing, there was no due cause for holding him all that time.

B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli, who has been documenting protests in the West Bank for years and was with Nitzany in Nabi Saleh on Friday, told +972 she she saw him throughout the demo and that he did no such thing. She signed an affidavit asserting as much.

Michaeli said it was a typical day of protest in Nabi Saleh: the IDF used tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and skunk water to disperse demonstrators. Palestinian youth eventually began throwing stones and clashes ensued between them . “No one is denying there were stones thrown but he [Nitzany] was not one of them. There were clashes throughout the day, but those arrested were not among those throwing stones, since the ones who do are kids who normally run back into the village the minute the army starts to enter.”

Michaeli stressed the fact that while Nitzany was clearly treated unjustly and his case exemplifies the limitations on freedom of protest here, it is still not comparable to how Palestinians in the same position are treated. “Palestinians are treated entirely differently than Israelis – subject to a completely separate and disrimantory legal system.”

Under Israeli law, an Israeli must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, while Palestinians from the West Bank – who are subject to an entirely separate legal system, the military courts – can wait up to 96 hours before their case reaches a judge. Indeed one Palestinian woman arrested in Nabi Saleh on Friday did not come before a judge till Monday, when her charges were dropped and she was released. Although Nitzany was also held in custody for three days, he did in fact see a judge the first time on Saturday evening, who decided to remand him based on the prosecution’s indictment. In both cases, the judge accepted the whims and discretion of the Border Police officer as fact, only to renege on them three days later.

This is not the first time an Israeli activist has been falsely arrested and charged of assaulting an officer during anti-Occupation demonstrations. Lasky also represented  an Israeli from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement last year who was cleared of the charge that she attacked police. She says she has encountered problems with policemen’s false statements for years. “It’s important the court takes more decisive action…a policeman’s testimony should not be believed automatically,” she stressed.

Lasky also represented members of the J14 movement after mass arrests were made two weeks ago in which activists were accused of  the same charge –  assaulting an officer – despite no evidence to back the claim.

Nitzany’s case can be seen in the context of increasing police repression of Israeli protesters that includes false arrests and charges.  Such conduct against Palestinians – who often remain in detention for days, months, or years on end – has long been a common phenomenon, and Israelis seem to be increasingly facing such wrongful arrests during demonstrations against state policies in both the West Bank and inside the Green Line (though they are generally released within a few days).

Israeli activists went to the Russian Compound over the last few days to show support for Nitzany while he was in custody – as well as the four Israeli Ta’ayush activists who were arrested on Saturday for painting over anti-Arab graffiti in Susya and released Sunday.

Taking all these incidents together, there is certainly a sense that Israeli police practice towards Jewish citizens is becoming harsher. When it comes to behavior that challenges the state’s legitimacy, the authorities are so intent on muzzling dissidents, that they are willing to lock people up on false charges. They have been doing it to Palestinians for decades, and now it seems to be trickling down to Israeli activists.

All this may not come as such a surprise considering the news Sunday that a judiciary panel appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu concluded that there is, in fact, no occupation.