Police on Monday offered a compromise “package” to the heads of the right-wing Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) group that would allow them to conduct a march in the Wadi Ara area, and in particular the town of Ar’ara – the home of terrorist Meshet Milhem, who on January 1st of this year killed three Israelis in a shooting attack on a café in central Tel Aviv. During the course of his escape from the city, Ar’ara managed to evade police for a full week before he was shot and killed in a showdown. Police arrested numerous people in Ar’ara for providing assistance to Milhem as he evaded police.
Police said that they would drop their opposition to most aspects of the march, and would allow marchers to enter Ar’ara and pass near the house of the Milhem family. However, speeches would have to be made out of the town.
The group filed for a permit to conduct the march over half a year ago, claiming that they were being discriminated against, as police, who refused to grant them the permit because of issues of “public order,” had granted licenses to many other organizations despite alleged “dangers.” At a hearing Monday at the High Court, Otzma Yehudit activist Baruch Marzel asked High Court Judge Elyakim Rubinstein to recuse himself from the proceedings, since “he has a negative and hostile attitude to me,” Marzel told the court. His request was refused.
Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir said that the court was obligated to allow the group to march in accordance with rules on freedom of speech. In many other instances, he said, the court had authorized controversial marches and protests even when it was clear they would upset residents – such as protests in favor of Shabbos bus transport by Meretz in chareidi neighborhoods – and that if police were willing to keep the peace in those instances, it could do so in this one, too.
The state’s representative said that police were willing to offer a “compromised framework,” recognizing the need for free expression, while balancing safety and security issues. The court suggested that both sides accept the deal, and Otzma Yehudit officials said that they would tour the route in advance to ensure that it was acceptable to them.
“In the past we have conducted numerous marches, such as in Umm el-Faham, and police found a way to work with us,” said Ben Gvir. “This time, however, they have categorically refused to do so, failing to suggest alternative march routes, etc. Although they claim that the march would be ‘controversial’ and ‘disturb public order,’ police have allowed many other similar marches that were just as controversial. It permitted the march of groups in Yerushalayim that were advocating undesirable lifestyles, Peace Now marches in Chevron, protests by feminist groups at the Kosel, and so on. It is the police that have established the policy of finding ways to allow these controversial groups to express their opinions, and yet now it seeks to change its long-standing policy,” he said in a separate statement.
In a statement, Marzel said that “the purpose of the march is to protest against the anti-Israel forces in the area and to draw attention to the lack of law enforcement in the area.”