A judge ordered that all 19 suspects arrested during protests in Haifa over the weekend be released early Monday morning, as the city simmered over allegations of police brutality against demonstrators.
Haifa Magistrate’s Court Judge Amir Salameh ordered that 12 of the 19 detainees be released immediately, while the other seven, suspected of assaulting a police officer, would be let go later in the day.
The 19 were arrested on Friday evening as police dispersed a demonstration against the deaths of Palestinians on the Gaza border. Among those arrested was Arab rights activist Jafar Farah, who alleged that a police officer broke his knee after he was already in custody.
Farah said when he arrived at the local police station after being arrested, he saw his son sitting covered in blood and asked why he was being treated in such a manner. Farah said that in response an officer kicked him in the knee.
On Sunday, the Justice Ministry’s police internal investigations department opened a preliminary investigation into Farah’s injury and allegations of police brutality.
On Sunday evening, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan gave his backing to a “swift investigation,” as public outcry over the incident mounted.
Erdan told Army Radio Monday morning that if an officer had behaved violently towards a detainee, “his place is not in the police.”
Police had said that all of Friday’s arrests were “carried out lawfully and in accordance with procedures,” but did not offer an explanation for Farah’s injury. They said the protests had included stone throwing at officers, property damage, attempts to block roads and the disturbing of public order.
Farah, who has been hospitalized, and his son and nephew were among the 12 to be released immediately.
Farah said upon his release: “It’s time for the Israel Police to educate its policemen to respect the right to free speech, and not to oppress people. It’s not Iran here…what happened in Haifa in the past two days is shameful and appalling for any democratic nation.”
Police on Sunday had requested that all 19 remain in custody for at least five more days. The judge chided the police for attempting to accuse all 19 of assaulting police, when it had only been a smaller group suspected of the crime.
He noted that seven of the protesters had needed medical assistance.
Police will have until 2 p.m. to appeal the release of the other seven suspects, Salameh ruled.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of people in Haifa, including several politicians, had demonstrated outside the court and other areas of the city against their arrest.
Attendees waved Palestinian flags and called to free the jailed protesters.
Friday’s protest had been called to demonstrate against the deaths of dozens Palestinians during clashes with troops at the Gaza border last week.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the ruling Hamas terror group in Gaza and used as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.
On Saturday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during Monday’s border clashes had risen to 64, with more than 2,700 wounded in the violence. Hamas has admitted that 50 of the dead were members of the terror group. Three others were Islamic Jihad members.
The weeks-long campaign of protests against Israel, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue. About 1,000 protesters took part in demonstrations Friday.
The Palestinian deaths during the protests were met with international outrage. On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council ordered an investigation into the killings. Israel said it would not cooperate, and the US castigated the move as “shameful.”