Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Disengage or face the consequences!

I've taken the liberty of hastily translating this op-ed from yesterday's Ma'ariv. I apologize for any inaccuracies; occasional clarifying notes have been added in square brackets.

The regime reaches wits' end
April 5, 2005
Amnon Shomron has a shocking story: A doctor is brutally beaten and thrown in jail, a jail designated for opponents of the regime, just because the police thought he opposed disengagement. The dark days are already here.

A week ago, Dr. Shai Gross was brutally beaten by 6-7 police officers at Kfar Haro'eh Junction. The police violence towards him was shocking by any standard. Dr. Gross, a doctor at Rambam Hospital [Haifa], waited for a small group of marchers making its way along the side of the road from Netanya to Kfar Haro'eh, where they were to spend the night in Hefer Valley communities and then continue the march into Samaria. Gross was supposed to meet some of the group, his guests, and then go on to Beit Ha'am for an evening singalong.

When they reached Kfar Haro'eh Junction, the police were there too. A police officer forced them to enter the village, perhaps fearing they planned to demonstrate in the intersection. He didn't like the pace at which they walked, and called one of the women a fool. Gross scolded the officer for his language, and then it started: The officer, along with his uniformed colleagues, pounced on Gross, slammed his head into the ground, beat him all over his body, cuffed his hands and feet and threw him into the van. His 15-year-old daughter, who watched the incident stunned, approached the police and tried to rescue her father. But they pushed her away and threw her onto the road.

I visited him in the holding cell at the Netanya police station at 10pm, some five hours after the incident. He was still cuffed hand and foot, his whole body shaking and bruised, his vision blurred, consumed by anger and frustration. The police were kind enough to free his hands just for our meeting, after which they again handcuffed him. The duty officer refused to grant him a blanket. "He'll get that in [high security] Ma'asiyahu Prison." Ma'asiyahu? Yes, the first political prison in the State of Israel. There, according to the instructions of the State's Attorney and the police, opponents of the regime will be tossed.

The charge: Assaulting an officer
At 3am, he was transported to Ma'asiyahu, and the next morning he was returned to Netanya and brought before a judge. There, in less than 24 hours, with him tired, shattered and hurting, an indictment was already prepared and served against Dr. Gross on charges of... assaulting a police officer. The judge was also asked to hold him until the end of proceedings, but she refused and ordered him released.

This amazing story could take place only in a situation in which the prime minister encourages soldiers to beat right-wing demonstrators and the minister for internal security reprimands the chief of police for using insufficient force to prevent [demonstrators from] blocking the roads; one can only guess at the variety of guidelines given to commanders of police districts and stations and the officers themselves, until the moment when madness meets brutality.

The unbearable lightness with which the police and the prosecution prepare an indictment against a simple citizen with no criminal background, and the inhuman insensitivity with which a request is filed to detain him and deny his liberty until the end of legal proceedings, are present only because someone has deliberately loosened the reins. Beat the religious and the settlers, and hasten the disengagement.

The ill wind against the right, the settlers, the religious and their ilk recalls the bad days after the Rabin murder, in which the secular left let loose its hatred against the national-religious public, unmasked and unconcealed. But this time, the scheme has been joined by the students of Jabotinsky, graduates of the saison and the Altalena. They, it appears, know how to do it with pride, with brutality, and without a trace of courtesy.

The author is an attorney, the former editor of the Makor Rishon newspaper.

FYI: Opponents of the disengagement plan have launched a new group blog for information and activism: ENGAGE - For a Secure Israel.


Sharvul said...

A storm in a tea cup. The writer confuses two issues here: police brutality and the political violence, using the former as an excuse to invent the latter.

There is no question that Israeli police (not unlike their counterparts in L.A. and elsewhere) are sometimes too punch-happy or too trigger-happy. Witness the unnecessary killing of Arab protesters in northern Israel a few years ago.

But what's that got to do with political violence and the supposedly "ill wind" against disengagement protesters, promoted, no less, by the prime minister? Allow me to remind you (and the writer) that so far in Israeli history political murder has come from one side of the spectrum only: the right (e.g. Yigal Amir, Ami Popper, Yona Avrushmi, etc.).

So enough with this nonsense. The right thinks it has the right to incite and call for disobedience against a government decision, expects to get away with it, and cries foul whenever this disobedience is met with the slightest enforcement of law and order.

Cosmic X said...

Mr. Biur, Yishar Koach for translating the article. That's a lot of work. I have personally been the victim of police brutality and it is not just a matter of being trigger happy as Sharvul suggests. These are orders given from high-up to intentionally use violence. For example, when the police came to destroy Havat Gilad they were instructed to remove there name tags in order to prevent complaints of police brutality.

And BTW, when you take the "hunting season" during the British Mandate into account, the murders from the left side of the spectrum far outnumber the murders from the right.

What's more, the left cannot say that their hands are clean with regards to all the murders that have been committed by the PA either. They are the ones that brought them here and gave them guns.

Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

Dear Sharvul,

Are you really as blind as you appear, or is it that you only want not to see - as the violence is directed toward someone with whom you disagree?

The governments of Israel have consistently used violence to stifle legitimate political protest. I personally was assaulted by two officers, Chavivion and Ravivo outside the Prime Ministers office almost ten years ago when I had the "audacity" to ask how to circumvent a road block they were in charge of in order to get to the tent several members of the Knesset were "protesting" in. The assault was witnessed by literally hundreds of blue uniformed police, and by coincidence a photographer hidden away at some distance with a telephoto lens.

The long-and-the-short is after going through all possible avenues of complaint the issue was dropped, as there was "No Public Interest." It wasn't until Mr. Chavivion's violent tactics caused a woman to lose her pregnancy that the police took action against him. They took him (temporarily off-the-street and gave him a promotion).

If a citizen in a democracy cannot protest laws that they feel are injustice, the Blacks in the US would still be segregated. So sorry Mr. Shuval, my advice is to start fighting the systematic use of violence by the government as a political tool (look up the definition of fascism in your dictionary), cause today it is the settler, tomorrow it will be the unions, and some day soon, Mr. Shuval, it just might be your turn.

Yoel Ben-Avraham
Shilo, Benyamin

Zman Biur said...


I agree that there are two issues here. Police brutality is endemic in Israel, and the police are rarely - never, to be frank - held accountable for arbitrary violent behavior against peaceful citizens. For this reason alone, the story is newsworthy.

I have followed many reports of Israeli police brutality over the years, and the media rarely take them seriously. Have any of the media followed up on Mr. Shomron's op-ed, for example?

However, it is also the case that the police have often singled out demonstrators on the "wrong side" of the government for brutal treatment. (In this case, of course, Dr. Gross was not even demonstrating.) In the Oslo years, police violence against the right was rampant. There was a clear intent to intimidate legitimate democratic protestors. Removing the nametags is commonplace, illegal, and never disciplined.

The same atmosphere exists today. We hear reports of citizens harassed and interrogated for the crime of wearing an orange shirt. Offensive graffiti is blamed on right-wing extremists, only to be later revealed as the work of police agents. Attacks are reported against government officials, later to be revealed as fictitious. None of this behavior is legitimate in a democratic society.

Feiglin and Sacket (Zo Artzenu) were indicted and convicted of a crime which is never enforced, and which has never been used against - say - Histadrut strikers who have caused far greater public disturbance through (at times) deliberate sabotage. Is this a legitimate use of state power?

It is legitimate for the police to act to break up civil disobedience. It is not legitimate for them to preemptively intimidate peaceful citizens.

Regarding political murder: What was the Altalena, exactly? And the left has frequently been eager to overlook Arab attacks against settlers, so long as Tel Aviv is safe. Yossi Sarid and others have basically said the settlers deserve what they get for living in disputed land.

In any case, political murder from the right has always been the work of lone radicals. With the left, political violence is the instrument of the state.

Sharvul said...

Cosmic X:
- The "saison" took place before 1948. I wrote "Israeli history", i.e. since Israel was established as a state. And in any case comparing the right-left divided in the mandate days to the one today is somewhat disingenuous.
- The argument "they gave them guns" is demagoguery at its best (or actually, worst). Comparing a direct murder of Jew by a Jew to terrorism by Palestinians is laughable, at least from an intent perspective.

- I'm sorry about your personal case, but I think that projecting from a private case (or cases) to a pre-meditated, national-level policy is dangerous.
- The settlers and their supporters are not exactly "mild sheep" and again I must refer you to numerous cases of violence. I'm not saying ALL settlers, but definitely the ones making the news deserve to get a taste of their own medicine at times.

Zman Biur:
- Ask yourself the chicken and the egg question. Perhaps the atmosphere existing today against the settlers derives from their blatant disregard to the majority's wishes and their almost 40-year-long disrespect of anything and anyone that did not share their land-hugging activities?
- Altalena: see my comment to Cosmic X. Personally, I believe Altalena was necessary at the time. One cannot establish a democratic state when there is a challenge to the national army. After all, we are asking the Palestinians to do the same today: fight their own "Altalena war" against the Hamas to prove they can rule.
- I agree with Yossi Sarid. The settlers cannot have it both ways. They cannot knowingly sit in a disputed land, with no strong national support, and at the same time wonder why they don't get the same standard of living as residents of Israel proper.

Zman Biur said...


Distinguishing between post- and pre-1948 Israel is itself "somewhat disingenuous". The left and the right haven't changed all that much since then.

Believe it or not, there is plenty of evidence of premeditated national policy in the rough treatment of right-wing demonstrators, including those merely suspected of being right-wing demonstrators. The number of incidents is large and rising, as it was in the Oslo years. Other peaceful demonstrators are not treated the same way (the Israeli Arabs rioting in October 2000 were, to a significant degree, not peaceful.)

Police brutality in Israel is rampant in any case. Why does this incident not seem to bother you for that reason alone? When have any police officers been held accountable for unnecessary violence?

Most of the "settlers making the news" have not been engaged in any violent activity. Why else is Noam Federman held under house arrest and administrative detention? Because there's no admissible evidence against him for criminal behavior. The same goes for most of the other "usual suspects". Just because their politics may be distasteful does not make them legitimate police targets.

I'm not talking about public opinion here. I'm talking about the use of law enforcement to persecute legitimate peaceful political dissenters.

Incidentally, the settlements in Gaza were established by Labor governments, and enjoyed the support of the national consensus.

The Altalena did not pose a challenge to the national army. That is Mapai propaganda.

And frankly, comparing Etzel to Hamas is disgusting.

Sharvul said...

I wrote a long comment last night and it's not here... I hate Blogger sometimes.

Anyway, I agree with you that police brutality (any brutality) is bad. But I firmly disagree this is all part of one big scheme. I have no time to rewrite now everything I wrote yesterday, but ask yourself this: if indeed this is just one long left-driven pattern from the "saison" and Altalena to present-day settlers, why is Arik Sharon, the patron of the very same settlers, leading this crusade? I can understand why you would cry out if it were Peres or Barak, but now that even Sharon believes this is the way, how can it be a "leftie" thing? Is there any "right" left anyway, except for a bunch of messianic Federman look-alikes?

One thing I do remember from my non-existent comment is I referred you to the interview with Rabbi Ariel on NRG. Some rabbis (too few for my liking) get the big picture and understand where this is all leading:

Zman Biur said...


My response to your Blogger-eaten comment was swallowed when my browser crashed. Poetic justice.

I accept that there is no formal conspiracy. I suspect there are several factors at work: an overzealous police force frustrated by their repeated failure to foil acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, statements from politicians about how dangerous the settler sympathizers are, and (what I can only assume is) a decision by the Justice Ministry and Prosecution to ignore cases of police misbehavior in the name of the greater good.

I don't agree that any greater good (short of clear and present danger) justifies the trampling of civil liberties; certainly when the result is to crush legitimate political dissent. I would expect the civil libertarian left to be the first to speak out in protest. That they aren't - and that the media largely ignore such incidents - indicates that they too believe the ends justify the means.

The irony is that the surest way to encourage an intense political minority to resort to violence is by denying them the use of peaceful forms of dissent. The left has long put forth this argument on behalf of the Palestinians.

You may be right that this isn't about left vs. right. But it is about the use of state power against peaceful citizens. That's serious enough on it own.

I haven't had a chance to read R' Ariel's interview. Thanks for the link. I have respect for him, along with many other religious Zionist rabbis. The dilemma faced by the dati-leumi community is real and acute, and it is one that I struggle with myself in my own way.