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Palestine | International | Police State and Prisons

Jonathan Pollack given political conviction in Israel
by news.infoshop
Monday Dec 27th, 2010 10:48 AM
Still hesitantly, but gradually, the tolerance of Israeli state for the activity of the anarchists against the wall shrinks. We feel it in the increased repressions in the various locations of joint demonstrations with Palestinians. Lately the not so secret services summon members for warning sessions. Tha latest warning is the case of Jonathan Pollak tried and convicted today. A scandelous verdict of guilty for illegal assembly for refusal to disperse a critical mass riding of bicycles we did two years ago. Following two media articles about Jonathan and a media article about Matan Cohen.
Jewish activist faces jail for West Bank resistance.

Jonathan Pollak could be jailed for up to six months

It is not every day that a leading Palestinian activist issues an emphatic statement of support for a Jewish Israeli – "this friend, whose friendship I am proud to share" – facing prison.

But then Jonathan Pollak, who could be jailed for between three and six months when the Tel Aviv Magistrates Court decides on his prosecution for illegal assembly today, is an unusual figure even in the long history of Israeli dissent.

The man praising him, Ayed Morrar, has become internationally known thanks to an award-winning documentary on the victorious unarmed struggle he led to change the route of the Israeli military's separation barrier in the Palestinian village of Budrus. Mr Pollak, 28, is already a veteran of that and many other battles against the barrier and settlements in the West Bank, protesting alongside Palestinian residents and sharing the same physical risks in the clashes between armed security forces – that sometimes use live ammunition – and stone-throwing young villagers that the struggle tends to generate.

Thanks to his media work for the Popular Struggle Co-ordination Committee, which loosely links these village protests, Mr Pollak is the best known of the small-but-persistent group of young Israelis who go week after week to the West Bank to take part.

Yet the current indictment is for something closer to home – his participation in a cycle ride through the streets of Tel Aviv some 30 Israelis held in protest at the siege of Gaza in January 2008. The cycle ride was similar to many others that have been held unimpeded in the city to further environmental goals. He was the only one arrested. "From the arrest itself to the indictment, this has been a political case," he said yesterday. "Had we not been protesting the occupation, none of it would have taken place."

Mr Pollak was born to leftist parents, who will be present in court today. His father Yossi is one of Israel's most prominent actors – among those pledged to boycott performances some of Israel's leading theatres are planning to stage in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel. His maternal grandfather, Nimrod Eshel, was jailed for his leadership of a strike by seamen in the 1950s.

He attended the first of very many demonstrations as a months-old babe-in-arms at the huge mass rally in Tel Aviv calling for an end to the first Lebanon war in 1982. What makes him and his Israeli comrades unusual, however, is the decision to go beyond mere demonstrations to, as he himself puts it, "crossing sides, moving from protest to joining resistance".

A high school dropout at 15, he was a teenage animal right activist, a cause with few Israeli adherents – and most of those Israelis who were part of it were anarchists. Very much part of Tel Aviv's young counterculture in the politically relatively relaxed Nineties, Mr Pollak became one too. He remains an anarchist and a vegan, still a strong believer in animal rights, which he sees as consistent with his wider politics. For him, "racism, chauvinism, sexism, speciesism all come from the same place of belittling the other", he said.

A few minor brushes with the law appear to have been enough to convince the army that he was not suitable material for compulsory military service. "I don't think they wanted me any more than I wanted them," he said. He spent two years in the Netherlands, living in a squat, before being deported back to Israel.

By this time, the second intifada was at its peak, and Mr Pollak found himself drawn, despite the dangers for a young Israeli of visiting the West Bank at the time, to the unarmed dimension of the Palestinian cause – including, most significantly, the very first anti-barrier protests in the West Bank village of Jayyous.

According to Mr Morrar, a long-term opponent of armed uprising, "Jonathan... is a man trying to prove that those who believe in occupation cannot claim to be humanitarian or civilised. He also wants to prove that resisting oppression and occupation does not mean being a terrorist or killing". Just as Mr Pollak learned his Arabic on the Palestinian street, as a serial leafleteer he discovered a talent for graphic design, which makes him a living when he needs the money.

His lawyer, Gaby Lasky, has been arguing throughout the case that his indictment was discriminatory. But if he is convicted he will go to prison "wholeheartedly and with my head held high", as he hopes to tell the court in a polite but uncompromising address. He planned to say: "It will be the justice system itself... that will need to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza's inhabitants, just as it ... averts its vision every day when faced with the realities of the occupation."

Anarchist given 3 months in jail for bike protest

Well-known member of Israeli radical left, Yonatan Pollak, punished for 2008 demonstration against Gaza siege; dozens protest outside court.

Prominent Israeli left-wing activist Yonatan Pollak was given a three month prison sentence and a NIS 1,500 fine for illegal assembly on Monday, for taking part in a bike protest against the Gaza Siege in January 2008.

Pollak was the only one of the 30 riders in the "Critical Mass" protest in downtown Tel Aviv to be arrested, a fact he has attributed to his prominence as an activist. The 28-year-old Tel Aviv native is one of the founders of the Anarchists Against the Wall and is one of the most well-known members of the Israeli radical left. ression

During his hearing, Pollak refused the judge's requests that he agree to community service, later arguing that it wasn't necessarily a lighter sentence and would require his cooperation with the proceedings against him. After his sentencing, Pollak refused to pay the NIS 1,500 fine.

Dozens of supporters came to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Monday morning for the sentencing, and a small-scale fracas took place when a supporter wearing a t-shirt reading "There is no pride in the occupation" was detained by courthouse security after she refused to remove the shirt. She was later released after changing into a dress shirt and tie. After Pollak exited the courthouse following his sentencing, his supporters broke out in anti-fascist and anti-occupation chants, and were pushed out of the courthouse one by one by security.

Pollak expressed no regret for taking part in the protest against the siege, saying "I think what we did; riding bicycles on the street is on the lowest level of using freedom of expression. If we must be punished for things like this, then I am happy to go to jail."

When asked if he is afraid to take part in future protests, Pollak said "there is a price to pay, but if you ask about fear you must keep in mind that most of my friends arrested for similar crimes have been given much worse sentences, as much as 18 months in jail from military judges, all because they are Palestinian."

Pollak vowed to continue to take part in illegal protests, beginning on the very first day of his release.

"I won't make any changes, this is not my first time in jail and not the first time I've been charged. I have no intention on stopping my campaign."

Shin Bet puts Israeli 'anarchists' in crosshairs

By Amira Hass

Security forces' Jewish Department warns leftist activists that they might be found to be violating the law.

The two security cadets at Ben-Gurion International Airport stood by the plane's door. That Friday, December 17, they were waiting not for some Mohammad, but rather for a Cohen. Matan Cohen.

He disembarked, and they followed him through passport control. From there he was taken to a small interrogation room. The duty policeman told Cohen, 22, a student at Hampshire College, that he was being detained on suspicion of "hostile activity."

Cohen: "Was it you who decided to detain me?"

Policeman: "No, security elements did."

Cohen: "Meaning the Shin Bet security service?"

Policeman: "Yes, the Shin Bet's Jewish department."

Four more people in civilian clothes examined Cohen's possessions. It took them two and a half hours. They asked some questions that showed Cohen they did not know a thing about him. (He is an anarchist activist and one of the coordinators of BDS - Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel - in the United States. ) They told him they did not have the security clearance to gain access to his file.

"We merely were warned that you are suspected of terrorist activity," which means they have to go through his bags, they said. After the examination, he was taken back to the policeman, who said, "If it were up to me, I would let you go already. I'm waiting for a telephone call from the head of the Jewish department."

Cohen: "[Am I] a suspect in something?"

Policeman: "You're not a suspect. You're suspected."

Cohen: "Your grammar is amazing."

Policeman: "It means that they think you're connected to something but you are not suspected of anything concrete."

Cohen: "In other words, you can detain me whenever you wish."

Policeman: "These are the instructions I got from the Shin Bet and the decision is theirs."

Eventually the policeman filed a detention report, writing: "Suspected of hostile terror activity by Shin Bet." Cohen, who was home for a vacation from his studies in political economy, philosophy and psychoanalysis, left the airport for his parents' house.

He was not the only anarchist the Jewish department dealt with that week. Five days earlier, Kobi Snitz was attending a conference when he received a call from an unidentified number. The caller told him, "Shalom, this is Rona from the Shin Bet. I'm sure you've heard about me."

"She said she wanted to invite me for a friendly conversation and for us to exchange thoughts," said Snitz, 39, an anarchist activist and a mathematician. He asked whether he was being called in for an interrogation and when she said no, he said, no thanks. In 2009, Snitz served a 20-day sentence over an attempt a few years earlier to prevent the demolition of a house in Kharbatha, a village west of Ramallah. Two months ago, he was given another five-day sentence over a protest against the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

"The Jewish department believes that every Arab is dangerous and that they can take us, the naive activists, for a ride," says Snitz. "They call us in in order to create a psychological profile, to know which of us they can exploit, and who can be exploited by others. They are not looking for information."

Assaf Kintzer received a call on December 9: "Shalom, this is Rona from the Shin Bet. How are you?" After he said "okay," she said she wanted to see him and asked him to come to the Dizengoff Street police station in Tel Aviv. It's urgent, she added. Kintzer, 33, said he could not come immediately. She said: "I'll call you again soon, and it's worth your while to come." She then continued, as Kintzer recalled, "Listen, if you aren't coming now, I'll tell you a bit by phone. I want you to know that we know what you are doing and that it will have repercussions. At the moment, what you are doing is on the borderline of the law and it is quite possible that information on you will show your actions are illegal. We know about all your files."

That same day, Kintzer was called to the police station to be interrogated after being detained at two demonstrations against the separation fence at Ma'asara.

Then Rona added: "In addition to your activity in the West Bank, we know that you are involved in [a plan to demonstrate against] the business conference. If you do anything violent, there will be consequences. Why aren't you talking?"

I have no reason to answer, he said. So Rona, he recalls, said in parting: "You should know that I'm not against you at all. I am on your side and take part in demonstrations."

One person who did go to meet Rona two weeks ago, mainly out of curiosity, was N., 30, another member of Anarchists against the Wall.

The entire meeting, including the security check with a magnometer and the screening of his bag, took less than 20 minutes. Rona could not get N. to respond to her questions, but N. said she had the following message: "We know what you are doing. At the moment you are not violating the law and we don't have any problem with you. The moment you violate the law, we'll be there."

Haaretz asked the Shin Bet whether it was warning activists about violating laws that the Knesset may pass in the future, thus making their actions illegal. The newspaper also asked who was considered "suspected," and whether members of the service could participate in demonstrations against the government.

The Shin Bet responded, "The security service acts in keeping with the authority granted it by law to fulfill its objective of protecting state security, institutions and public order in a democratic regime from threats of terror, damage, subversion, spying and revealing state secrets, as stipulated in paragraph 7 (a ) of the Shin Bet security service law from 2002. As for the extent to which Shin Bet employees may take part in demonstrations, they are subject to the restrictions imposed on all civil servants."