The High Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected a petition demanding the police be ordered to approve an anti-war demonstration in the northern Arab Israeli towns of Umm al-Fahm and Sakhnin, siding with the police stance that such an event would divert critical manpower during a time of intense security challenges.
The Hadash political party together with senior Communist party officials had petitioned the High Court to enable such demonstrations to go head in the face of stiff police opposition to such events at present, including that of Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
In a unanimous decision, justices Isaac Amit, Yael Wilner and Ruth Ronen pointed out the unprecedented period of war the country is experiencing, battling terror groups Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, while the home front is suffering massive rocket attacks and other attacks.
The justices accepted the police’s arguments that due to these security threats and the heavy burden of missions on the police at present, it could not allocate the necessary manpower to protect public order and ensure the safety of protestors in a large political demonstration.
“Many policemen would need to be diverted for this purpose at the expense of emergency life-saving missions,” wrote Amit in his opinion.
He added, however, that “the gates of protest, demonstration and processions are open also during times of war” and that the decision related to the specific request made by the petitioners.
Amit wrote that the police must therefore continue to evaluate every request to hold a protest on its own merit and based on the prevailing circumstances.
Protests were permitted on Saturday evening around the country calling for the government to step up efforts to return hostages taken by terrorists on October 7. In Jerusalem, the protesters scuffled with police outside the Prime Minister’s Residence amid calls for Benjamin Netanyahu to quit over the failures that led up to the war.
Police arrested three demonstrators over the disturbances, and said they were forced to divert manpower from other areas of the city.
During the discussion on the petition Tuesday, local police commander Shlomi Ben Shushan told the court that he was concerned about inciting remarks during the proposed rally in the Arab communities.
“What bothers me isn’t blocking roads, but the ability for me to enter Umm al-Fahm and disperse it,” he added.
In response to the decision, the Arab civil rights organization Adalah claimed the real reason was not a lack of manpower, but that the protesters would be predominantly non-Jewish.
“Once the limits on the police’s authority are defined, it must approve requests for Arab citizens to hold demonstrations. Otherwise, it would be like establishing the claim that Arabs do not have the right to make their voices heard during war,” the statement read.
Israel declared war with the aim of eradicating Hamas following the terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were brutally murdered in their homes and at a music festival, and over 240 more were abducted, including some 30 babies and children.
Israel has responded with a military campaign while vowing to eradicate Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.
The IDF has also battled Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups that have launched daily attacks from southern Lebanon at northern Israeli communities and military positions.