Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Monday that protester Jafar Farah may have been injured during the course of Friday night’s demonstration in Haifa, after the latter said he will sue the police for breaking his leg while he was in detention.
Farah, the director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, alleges that a police officer broke his knee by kicking him after arresting him and holding him in custody following a Friday protest against Israel’s recent actions on the Gaza border.
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“When I was brought to the police station with my son, I found him on the floor covered in blood. When I asked the police officer, ‘Who gave you the right to treat my son this way?’ his response was to break my knee,” Farah said in an interview with Army Radio posted on Twitter Monday morning.
“I intend to sue the police,” Farah said.
Speaking at an inauguration ceremony for the operational branch of the Police Commissioner at the National College in Beit Shemesh, Alsheich said the protest was very violent. “The street had become a battleground – flying chairs, throwing stones at policemen. This is not a legitimate protest even in a tolerant democratic state,” he said.
Responding to statements that a video showing Farah walking while being escorted into a police car is evidence that he was wounded while under police supervision, Alsheich responded: “Have you never seen a person walking with a broken leg? He may have been injured during the protest. What the Department for the Investigation of Police has to check, it checks. They will come to their conclusion. If someone did something wrong, we will deal with it firmly.”
Speaking at the same event, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that the incidents in Haifa were “an example of the complex role of the police: the need to maintain public order and protect public safety, together with the need to enable protests in the context of freedom of expression, in which we all believe.
“The police perform their duties under pressure, while being insulted and sometimes violently attacked. But they still have to act with restraint and remember their mission. There is no harder task than that,” he continued, saying that the Police must make sure that it “makes wise use of the power granted to it by law” while maintaining public security.
Farah was among 21 protesters arrested at the Friday demonstration in Haifa. Two were minors and were soon released.
The justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department has opened a probe into the alleged police brutality.
The Haifa District Court ordered the protesters to be released Monday morning, despite a police request to keep the 19 in custody for a further five days. Seven of the protesters suspected of assaulting a police officer were retained for an additional several hours.
In his decision to release the protesters, the judge cited the fact seven of 19 detainees needed medical treatment, having sustained injuries from police violence during the protest.
“The only democracy in the Middle East does not need to break the leg of a protester while he is under arrest,” said Bassel Farah, Jafar’s son, in an interview with Army Radio.
“No one will break him,” he said of his father.
“They should stop saying that this is a democracy,” the younger Farah said in a video released by the Hadash Party student group at Haifa University. “What happened here in Haifa over the past two days is a disgrace and an insult to every democratic regime.”
Asked why Farah was arrested in the first place, the police spokesman for the Hof district referred The Jerusalem Post to a general police statement that said the 21 demonstrators were arrested for “participating in a prohibited gathering, unruly behavior in a public place and behavior that is likely to disturb public peace.”
In a video aired by Channel 2 news on Monday night of Farah talking to police before his arrest, he could be heard telling an officer that he wanted to leave the demonstration and that he didn’t want to protest.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that while the Zionist Union supported the IDF’s actions on the Gaza border, the right to protest must be respected. He said that he knows Farah from his work in the Knesset and described him as “a man of conversation and sometimes also of argument, but certainly not a man who can end an arrest with breaks in his legs.”
“We and all members of this house should stand as one wall against the violation of freedoms. Today, it is about the Arab public in Israel. A few months ago, it was about the Ethiopian community; tomorrow it might be any other group from the Israeli mosaic… who expresses their opinion and protests against what they see as an injustice,” Herzog continued.
“Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes the use of force against demonstrators, regardless of their political or public identity, is too easy. It seems to me that we have become indifferent to the use of excessive force – and here came a wake-up call,” Herzog added.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman lamented that citizens of Israel “are standing alongside Hamas and against IDF soldiers, before security forces in Haifa. We are talking about a fifth column in every sense of the word,” he added.
Prominent Arab and Jewish NGOs penned a letter of solidarity with Farah.
“As heads of civil society organizations working on the promotion of democracy and shared society between Jews and Arabs in Israel, we condemn the brutal detaining of Jafar Farah, director of Mossawa (Equality in Arabic) last Friday in Haifa,” reads the letter, which was published on Sunday night. “We are horrified by the excessive violence against him after his detention, that even required him to be hospitalized for medical care, and condemn it in all possible ways.”
The letter was signed by The Abraham Fund Initiative, Israel Democracy Institute, Givat Haviva, Sikkuy, Mahpach Taghyeer, Kav Mashve, Tsofen, Shatil and the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation.
“Civil society organizations play an important and meaningful role within society, including community organization and leading various protest campaigns,” they said. “The police should allow them do their work within the legal framework and refrain from threatening them and acting violently against them.”
The groups added that they were “deeply troubled by the police conduct toward the Arab citizens who are protesting against the events in Gaza. We would like to remind the police and the enforcement authorities that they have to allow and protect the right to protest, a basic civic right in a democratic regime.”
The letter concludes with a demand for an independent examination of the events surrounding the protest in Haifa and the detention of Farah.
Accusations of police violence against demonstrators at the protest are currently being investigated by Mahash, the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.