Tel Aviv police ban World Children’s Day event supporting “children living in the shadow of the war”

Originally published: Mondoweiss on November 20, 2023 by Yoav Haifawi (more by Mondoweiss)  | (Posted Nov 22, 2023)

November 20 is celebrated as World Children’s Day in many countries to commemorate the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1959. As children pay a shocking price in lost lives and endless suffering in the current war, 14 civil society organizations united to organize an event in Tel Aviv under the title “The cry of the children living in the shadow of the war.” In the invitation to the event, they wrote:

Children are children

Over five million girls and boys live under fire!

On Monday 20.11, International Children’s Rights Day, we will all meet to shout the cry of the children, all living in the shadow of the war for over 40 days and nights.

They called for:

Promote a prisoner and abductee deal immediately, to allow everyone to return to their families.

To act out of the fracture, the collapse and the loss—and to move towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which begins with the cessation of hostilities, as the only way to ensure security for all of us.

By law, such a gathering does not require any license. But on the morning of November 20, officers from the Tel Aviv police called the organizers and demanded that they apply for one. Seeking to avoid confrontation, after previous silent vigils were violently attacked by the police, the organizers quickly filled out the necessary forms. The answer from the police was also quick: the event was forbidden.

The limits of “Jewish democracy”

I have seen the letter that the police sent to the organizers to inform them that they refused the requested license. It starts with complaining that the request arrived late. This is hypocritical, as the event did not require a license, and the request for a license was filled at the insistence of the police themselves.

They proceeded to explain that they could not allow the event to take place, because they did not have enough police forces to guarantee public order. This is a direct response to the line drawn for them by the two recent high court decisions, the one that prevented anti-war demonstrations in Sakhnin and Umm al-Fahm and the one that allowed a limited demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday. Unwilling to say that Arab citizens are not allowed to demonstrate while the civil rights of Jews must be upheld, the judges justified their different positions by the availability of the “required” police forces. Now, the police under the extremist state security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who regard any opposition to the war as “treason,” have twisted that logic to prevent a silent vigil in Tel Aviv.

In the last section of its letter, the police resorted to lightly disguised threats. It informed the organizers that the occurrence of the event “might, with near certainty, cause serious harm to public security.” This is exactly the excuse that the police used, in many recent events, to violently attack and detain peaceful anti-war protesters all around the country.

I talked with Noa Levi from Hadash, one of the organizers of the Children’s Day protest. She was also one of the organizers of last Saturday’s anti-war demo that the high court forced the Tel Aviv police to allow. She told me about the dynamics they experienced within the police force itself, where violently anti-democratic officers, promoted by the new management under Ben-Gvir, are setting the tone. She pointed to the active role in silencing protest played by Superintendent Meir Swisah, who was widely denounced before the recent war for instigating unlawful violence against demonstrators in the protests against the judicial reform. She shared her impression that some of the professional officers are reeling against the extreme politicization of the police.

Children’s Day detainee: a 14-year-old boy

Meanwhile, the detention of Palestinians within the Green Line (who are formally citizens of Israel) for social media posts continues unabated. The courts, which since October 7 have suspended all regular hearings, are working overtime to keep as many Palestinians as possible in security prisons for extended periods. Nobody knows the full numbers, let alone the details of each case. It is hard to decide which individual case to follow. So, for Children’s Day, I will report today on the detention of a child.

Deiaa Haj Yahia reported today in Haaretz about the detention of a 14-year-old child with learning disabilities from Taibeh (some 35 kilometers northwest of Tel Aviv). According to the report, he was detained by the police for sharing a single post showing, side-by-side, Hamas militants held by the Israeli army and Israeli soldiers held by Hamas. The text on the image said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, what will come will be more difficult and cruel.”

Even though the described post relates symmetrically, visually, and in the text to both sides of the conflict, Haaretz, echoing the police interpretation, added a headline saying the boy “shared a post supporting Hamas.” After spending a night in jail, the child was brought before a judge in Petah Tikva. The police requested to send him to house arrest. The defense lawyer insisted that he should go to school. Finally, he was only restricted from using the internet for a month.

Writing “Good Morning” may lead to prison

Another case that was reported today in Haaretz, by Eden Solomon, tells the story of Haitham Hawashleh, a 38-year-old father of five, who lives in the unrecognized village of Al-Araa near Biʾr as-Sab’e (Be’ersheva). He used to work as an educator, and these days, he is campaigning to be elected as head of the Al-Kasom Regional Council.

Unlike many other detainees who shared celebratory photos of a breached wall or civilians on a military jeep, on the morning of October 7, Mr. Hawashleh simply wrote Sabah al-Kheir (“Good Morning” in Arabic) at 8:10 a.m. He later claimed that he was sleeping in the desert and didn’t even hear any news.

Despite the complete innocence of his text, he was detained on October 28 on suspicion of “publishing words praising or encouraging acts of terrorism and identifying with a terrorist organization!” In order to add “context,” the police related to another post from October 15, where Hawashleh shared an old holy Islamic text from the “Hadith.” As could be expected, the hadith, which is attributed to the prophet Muhammad said nothing about Israel or Hamas.

For these two posts, Hawashleh spent 16 days in prison. According to Haaretz:

On the day of the arrest, Hawashleh was taken to the “townships police station” and the next day his detention was extended. According to his lawyer Shehada Ibn Bari, since Hawashleh was charged with terrorist offenses—his status was that of a security detainee and he was required to stay in a security prison. Since there is no wing for security detainees in the Beer Sheva area, he was taken to the Russian compound in Jerusalem. During the entire period of detention, he was interrogated through phone calls only—when the interrogator was at the townships station and he was in the Russian compound.

According to Hawashleh, during the time he was held in detention, he was beaten by the guards, they poured cold water on him, took his glasses from him and he was left in short clothes. “There is no law there to protect me, the guards did whatever they wanted with me, not only was I falsely arrested, but I also went through the worst of all,” he says. According to him, hours after his arrival at the detention center, he was put in a small room without cameras and asked to undress, then for several minutes two guards beat him with “punches and kicks all over his body” until he collapsed. In another case, according to him, he and two other detainees were severely beaten by five guards. “We received murderous beatings,” he says, “we were injured in the head, back, hands and legs. It lasted for more than 20 minutes. They took turns with the blows and, while cursing us, they told us that we were Daesh and Hamas.”

Hawashleh was released on Sunday, a week ago, without any charges being brought against him. He suffers from pain all over his body and an X-ray that he took later revealed cracks in his ribs and a herniated disc in his neck. “I have trouble breathing and my whole body hurts,” he says. In addition, Hawashleh says that even on a mental level he is having trouble getting back to normal. He feels that his life has changed and now he does not feel safe in his country.

Yoav Haifawi is an anti-Zionist activist and maintains the blogs Free Haifa and Free Haifa Extra.

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