A court on Thursday evening ordered the release of far-right activists detained by police earlier in the day for distributing fliers that attacked a senior IDF officer and claimed he “shoots at Jews.”
Judge Erez Melamed of the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court in central Israel threw out a police request to extend the remand of two teens, saying the content of the leaflets did not constitute incitement and fell within an individual’s right to free speech.
The leaflets targeting Col. Gilad Amit were printed less than a week after the Samaria Brigade chief took part in the evacuation of an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank. During the razing of the outpost, the army said soldiers were forced to fire into the air after non-compliant settlers hurled stones at them.
Three of the so-called hilltop youth — two adults and a minor — were arrested in the aftermath of the Saturday clash, but were subsequently released after charges were filed against them.
Four activists were then arrested on Israel’s Independence Day in connection with the flyers, which also accused Amit of “harassment of the settlement movement” and charged that he had been behind recurrent outpost demolitions throughout the West Bank, including one on Yom Kippur where soldiers poured a “smelly substance” on the homes of residents.
“So who really is the one inflaming the area?” one flier asked, using a phrase employed by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit in the past to describe the actions of “hilltop youth” — young people who move to settlement outposts, resist soldiers’ attempts to evacuate them, and have sometimes been known to carry out price tag and other hate attacks.
Police questioned the four on suspicion of “insulting a public servant.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted on Thursday that the leaflets were “shameful,” while IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot called for their denunciation.
But in ordering the immediate release of the two teens without conditions, Judge Melamed ruled, “A person has the right to express his opinion about current issues, even if his opinion is disrespectful and angry, and even if it’s drafted in vulgar and infuriating language.”
The other two people detained in connection with similar leaflets were also released after the ruling was issued.
Nati Rom, who defended the detainees on behalf of the right-wing legal aid group Honenu, said he was sorry that “Time after time, minors — some 13 and 14 years-old — are detained for long hours, against the law in general and against youth law in particular.”
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.