As police forces across the world begin to wear the uniforms and carry the weapons of paramilitary groups, it becomes more and more intimidating for people to stand up for their rights. Thankfully, a recent legal ruling in Israel may strengthen the hand of the simple citizen by enshrining his or her right to give cops a good shove when they are abusing their powers.
The ruling followed an 2009 incident in Tel Aviv in which about 30 people participated in a demonstration, drumming and protesting the incarceration of conscientious objectors to the Israeli army. The demonstrators, who included Oshra Bar and Nadav Frankovic, gathered in downtown Tel Aviv and planned to march in the direction of a public square.
But before the demonstration even began, the commanding police officer received an order from his superiors to prevent the legal demonstration from becoming a procession. According to Israeli law, a protest march of less than 50 participants does not require any police approval.
The protesters stood and explained to the police officers that they do not require a permit to demonstrate, but the officer in charge began to yell at Frankovic to go backwards, put his hand on Frankovic and asked him to move. Other protesters explained to the police that it was their right to protest and that the demonstration was legal, but in a police video of the event, the officer can be heard ridiculing them in response, saying, “You don’t want to play with me – I play dirty.”
When Frankovic refused, the officer grabbed him, tackled him and dragged him away with another officer. They handcuffed him and put him in the back of a patrol car. At his request, Bar then opened the door of the patrol car and Frankovic emerged, but was forced back in several minutes later and the two were arrested. Bar was charged with obstructing an officer in the line of duty and Frankovic was charged with assaulting a police officer, use of force or threats to prevent an arrest, escape from legal holding, and of course, obstructing an officer in the line of duty.
Five years later, in May 2014, a court cleared Bar and Frankovic of all charges and criticized the police for misuse of their powers. The judge noted that the police “frame” demonstrators who try to practice their freedom of expression, using violence and lies, indifferent to their supposed role: protecting the public.
The legal decision clearly established that when police actions diverge from their assigned responsibilities, the people who are being acted upon may resist and even use a reasonable amount of force against the police. The demonstration was legal, and therefore the arrest was illegal, and it is a basic right for a person to resist an arrest that is being carried out against him or her against the law.
Therefore, when Frankovic was put into the patrol car, he did not escape from legal holding, and it was his right to escape the patrol car. Bar, likewise, did not commit any infraction when she opened the door and helped him get out. The police operated improperly when they attempted to stop the procession and Frankovic’s small pushback in response to the police officer shoving him was not a criminal infraction and did not justify arrest.
It was not the first time that an Israeli court ruled in favor of resistance, even of a physical nature, to an illegal arrest. In 2011, an Israeli court ruled that a person who is not suspected of a crime does not have to respond to a police officer’s demand that he present his identification card, and that such a person may physically resist illegal arrest.
While these incidents do denote small victories, they were only possible because those charged were Jewish citizens, who have extra privileges in Israel. It goes without saying that if those charged were Palestinians, African asylum-seekers or any people who lack Jewish privilege, it is highly unlikely that they would have gotten off so easy.
Caution is advised when facing off with police, who play fast and loose with the rules and often abuse their authority to crush political dissent. But now, if the police give chase and yell at you, “You can run but you can’t hide”, you can keep on running, knowing that at least one judge will have your back if the cops ever catch up to you in court.