Wednesday, January 29, 2020, 14:40 Haifa Magistrates Court Judge Revital Baum awarded Tom Nisani, the National Activist Coordinator of Im Tirtzu, 9,000 NIS in compensation for violation of his rights by the police as he protested outside of a conference marking Naqba Day that was open only to Arabs in May 2017 (on Israeli Independence Day) on the Haifa University campus. A policeman who was summoned to the site distanced Nisani from the protest, violated his freedoms of expression and protest, prevented him from documenting his detention, brutally detained him and afterwards concealed the goings-on from the sight of his friends and their cameras.
Nisani sued the police over violation of his freedoms of expression, protest and movement, and over false detention, false imprisonment, and assault. After the incident the Police Investigation Unit (PIU) did take disciplinary action against the policeman. However he was tried before a sole judge, not a disciplinary court on which jurists sit, ruled to have acted properly, and exonerated from the disciplinary violation which had been attributed to him.
The decision of the Haifa Magistrates Court contradicts the decision by the PIU after the disciplinary procedure and ruled that in fact there was “a violation of the right of the plaintiff to demonstrate a quiet and non-violent protest, a violation of his freedom of expression, illegally distancing him from the conference, a demand to not film the incident, lowering the blind of the office window so that there would not be evidence of what occurred in the room. Also for the detention of the plaintiff and leaving him overnight in remand… I reason that the defendant is obligated to compensate the plaintiff.”
Judge Baum specified that there was no justification for distancing Nisani from the site of the protest, there were no grounds for the demand by the policeman for Nisani to stop filming, there in fact was a scuffle between the policeman and Nisani in the closed room, there were no grounds for the detention of Nisani, and for all of that the police are obligated to compensate him.
Nisani documenting the incident; Video credit: Im Tirtzu
The incident occurred on Israeli Independence Day in May 2017, when Tom Nisani, the National Activist Coordinator of Im Tirtzu, stood with an Israeli flag at the entrance to an event marking Naqba Day on the Haifa University campus that was open only to Arabs. Despite the fact that the presence of the plaintiff with a flag “did not deviate from appropriate protest in a democratic society”, as stated in the suit, the university summoned police to distance Nisani from the site.
Commander Roni Cohen of the Daliyat El Karmel Police Station arrived at the scene and asked Nisani to leave. Nisani accompanied the policeman without resistance, while filming him and the goings-on, wondering why the policeman ordered him to leave the site despite the fact that his protest was democratic and legal. The policeman began to argue with Nisani about the legality of his filming and demanded that he stop. Nisani refused. After his refusal the policeman demanded that he enter a near-by building and said, “Soon you won’t be able to film, come… Soon you’ll understand why, come.”
Nisani accompanying Officer Cohen to the building; Video credit: Im Tirtzu
Inside the building the policeman continued to demand that Nisani stop filming, while Nisani’s friends continued to film from outside what was happening inside. In one of the video clips documenting the incident the policeman is seen waving his arm towards Nisani and continuing to demand that he stop filming, while Nisani refused to do so. Then the security personnel from the university closed the blinds and Nisani’s friends could no longer see what was happening in the room.
Nisani’s friends documenting the incident from outside the building; Video credit: Im Tirtzu
Nisani continued to film the policeman, who hit the cell phone several times in order to enforce his illegal demand by force. After the security personnel closed the blinds the policeman hit the cell phone again, and started to shout at Nisani that he pushed him, which he had not done. It was a pretext for the policeman to use force on Nisani to stop filming. After that the policeman used force on him, shouted at him that he was being detained and brought him into a inner closed room. Nisani’s videoed documentation ends here, and his friends were unable to see anything from outside.
Inside the inner room the policeman pushed Nisani on the chairs, tearing his shirt, and injuring his right hand. Nisani filed a complaint with the Police Investigation Unit, following which the policeman was brought to trial for a disciplinary infraction. However he was exonerated from the disciplinary violation attributed to him. Nisani subsequently sued the police and the court ruled that the police are obligated to compensate him.
Honenu Attorney Menashe Yado, who is representing Tom Nisani: “This incident demonstrates the tolerant attitude of the PIU and more than that of the Disciplinary Department of the Israeli Police concerning violations committed by policemen, and particularly by senior policeman against civilians. The policeman was exonerated in a disciplinary judgment, despite the existence of video recordings showing him assaulting the plaintiff while two others lowered the blinds.
“Also the court that handled the suit took a lenient stance with regards to the sum of the compensation awarded. In this case the police should have been obligated to pay at least 20,000 NIS in compensation, not 9,000 NIS, including legal expenses. We have not said the last word in the case. Beyond the brutality, there is a culture of deception and lies that has taken hold of the police, and in this case it was a high-ranking policeman who wrote a false report against my client and caused his detention. We are considering our next step.”