Civil Liberties and the Disengagement
Also from SHARING THE PAIN, Hamodia, August 5, 2005
THE SUFFERING OF THE GAZA RESIDENTS is only part of the tragedy. Another aspect is the sustained assault on civil liberties resulting from the disengagement. For me, the wakeup call an Email from the father of Chaya Belogorodsky, 13. She is charged with insulting a police officer, after she refused to leave a sidewalk, adjacent to where her friends were blocking the street. Though the maximum penalty for her crime is a monetary fine, she was placed in solitary confinement for a week after her arrest, denied kosher food, her siddur taken away. She is allowed to speak to her parents for only half an hour weekly. She remains in prison pending trial – an order upheld by Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia.
Despite the general solicitude for youthful offenders, this is not the first time a Supreme Court justice has taken a particularly harsh stance towards religious youth. Justice Dalia Dorner once upheld the pre-trial incarceration of a 13-year-old accused of throwing stones during a demonstration on Bar Ilan, though he denied the charge and had no criminal record. At the same time, police did not even request the pre-trial detention of a 17-year-old accused of assaulting a yeshiva student, who had a previous conviction for assault with a deadly weapon.
The law enforcement system is being used as a blunt instrument against a particular religious ideology, and without any of the usual democractic safeguards. The state prosecutor in the Belogorodsky case told the Supreme Court that house arrest was inadequate in her case because she might talk to others and encourage them to participate in illegal demonstrations. Compare the harshness shown towards Chaya Belogorodsky with the general leniency towards other young offenders. The teenage killers of cabdriver Derek Roth, were granted furloughs a few years after their convictions, which they promptly took advantage of to engage in an armed robbery. On their next furlough, they skipped the country.
In this week’s Jewish Week, editor Gary Rosenblatt, describes the case of Asher Vodka, a Bat Yam yeshiva student, rousted from his bed at 3:00 a.m. by eight secret service agents, who proceeded to confiscate his and his wife’s cell phones and computers before dragging him off to jail. He is charged with “right wing ideology in opposition to the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and suspected of thinking of or planning to obstruct roads, an act which could lead to endangering lives” (emphasis added). He was brought to his initial hearing in leg irons and handcuffs, forbidden from even looking at his wife, and remanded for 7 days of interrogations. That remand order has been renewed twice. Those remand orders can only be described as preventive detention.
The Orthodox Union, which has as a matter of policy refrained from taking any position on the Gaza withdrawal, nevertheless went public last week with a letter to Israel’s ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, in which the organization accused the security forces of “stopping, questioning, and in some instances detaining persons traveling in both public and private vehicles solely because those persons wore kippot.” The letter cited an incident in which a bus traveling from Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem was stopped and passengers wearing kippot were removed. It went on to complain of house arrest and administrative detention being used against those advocating positions at odds with government policy, the baseless confiscation of drivers’ licenses, and threats and coercions against persons exercising their right of lawful travel and free association.
The list of horror stories could be multiplied greatly — e.g., demonstrators already in handcuffs being brutally beaten by police (with the major news outlets expressing no interest in the photographs of the beating), a resident of Gush Katif placed under house arrest in Beersheba and barred from his home because he asked to keep his car air-conditioning on while presenting his I.D. card at a checkpoint, police blocking a bus of settlers en route to canvass residents of Netanya last March.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, best known for its representation of Palestinians, foreign workers, and the heterodox movements, last week protested to the police commissioner the “use of extreme and unauthorized measures to thwart a demonstration – even an illegal demonstration,” which the statement said is “reminiscent of regimes we would not want to resemble.” And the head of the Hebrew Univeristy’s legal aid clinic wrote to Justice Minister Tzippi Livni about “the fatal blow against the fundamental rights of opponents of disengagement.”