Thursday, December 30, 2010

Israeli Activist Jailed for Bike Protest

Israeli Activist Jailed for Bike Protest


(Two Takes)


By Robert Mackey

New York Times blog

December 28, 2010




Israeli activists during a "Critical Mass Against the

Occupation" bike protest in Tel Aviv in 2007.Yotam

Ronen/Activestills The Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak

during a "Critical Mass Against the Occupation" protest

in Tel Aviv.


Updated | 2:07 p.m. An Israeli activist was sentenced

to three months in jail on Monday for his part in a

2008 protest by Tel Aviv cyclists opposed to the

blockade of Gaza.


The activist, Jonathan Pollak, is a 28-year-old leader

of Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli group that

joins Palestinian protesters in weekly demonstrations

against the security barrier Israel is building on West

Bank land it has occupied since 1967. He also works to

draw media attention to the West Bank protests through

another group, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.


Joseph Dana, an Israeli blogger and activist who works

with Mr. Pollak, explained in a post on the blog +972

that his colleague was arrested in January 2008, as he

took part in a "Critical Mass bicycle ride through the

streets of Tel Aviv against the siege on Gaza. During

the protest, Pollak was arrested by plain-clothes

police who recognized him from previous protests and

because, as claimed in court, they assumed he was the

organizer and figurehead of the event."


Mr. Pollak's conviction for illegal assembly at the

bike protest activated an older three-month suspended

sentence imposed on him for protesting the construction

of the security barrier. The activist refused to

apologize for his role in the protest or ask for

leniency in a statement to the court.


"I have no doubt that what we did was right and, if

anything, not sufficient considering what is being done

in our name," Mr. Pollak said later in a telephone

interview with Ana Carbajosa of The Guardian. "If I

have to go to prison to resist the occupation, I will

do it gladly."


Israel's Ynet News reported that Dan Yakir, the chief

legal counsel for The Association for Civil Rights in

Israel, criticized the sentence, saying:


The fact that Pollak was the only one arrested, even

though he behaved just like the rest of the protesters,

and the fact that bicycle demonstrations are usually

held without police involvement raises a strong

suspicion regarding personal persecution and a severe

blow for freedom of expression, just because of his

opinions. A prison sentence in the wake of a protest is

an extreme and exaggerated punishment.


In  an interview with Russia Today, a Kremlin-financed

broadcaster, Joseph Dana claimed that the jailing of

Mr. Pollak was "a clear attempt to silence dissent on

the Israeli left and part of a broader attack on non-

violence" as a means of protesting Israeli policies.


Critical Mass protests, in which activists take to the

streets on bicycles, began in San Francisco in the

1990s but are now said to take place in some 300 cities

around the world, including New York. One regular rider

told Ben McGrath of The New Yorker that the events were

"a `happening,' a temporary reorganization of public space."


As my colleague James Barron has reported, the New York

Police Department has had regular run-ins with the

cyclists. In 2008, a police officer was filmed  shoving

a cyclist to the ground as Critical Mass riders left

Times Square. Two months ago, New York City agreed to

pay nearly $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by 83

participants in Critical Mass rides who claimed that

they were wrongly detained and arrested at protests

between 2004 and 2006.




Jewish activist faces jail for West Bank resistance


By Donald Macintyre in Tel Aviv

The Independent (UK)

December 27, 2010


It is not every day that a leading Palestinian activist

issues an emphatic statement of support for a Jewish

Israeli - "this friend, whose friendship I am proud to

share" - facing prison.


But then Jonathan Pollak, who could be jailed for

between three and six months when the Tel Aviv

Magistrates Court decides on his prosecution for

illegal assembly today, is an unusual figure even in

the long history of Israeli dissent.


The man praising him, Ayed Morrar, has become

internationally known thanks to an award-winning

documentary on the victorious unarmed struggle he led

to change the route of the Israeli military's

separation barrier in the Palestinian village of

Budrus. Mr Pollak, 28, is already a veteran of that and

many other battles against the barrier and settlements

in the West Bank, protesting alongside Palestinian

residents and sharing the same physical risks in the

clashes between armed security forces - that sometimes

use live ammunition - and stone-throwing young

villagers that the struggle tends to generate.


Thanks to his media work for the Popular Struggle Co-

ordination Committee, which loosely links these village

protests, Mr Pollak is the best known of the small-but-

persistent group of young Israelis who go week after

week to the West Bank to take part.


Yet the current indictment is for something closer to

home - his participation in a cycle ride through the

streets of Tel Aviv some 30 Israelis held in protest at

the siege of Gaza in January 2008. The cycle ride was

similar to many others that have been held unimpeded in

the city to further environmental goals. He was the

only one arrested. "From the arrest itself to the

indictment, this has been a political case," he said

yesterday. "Had we not been protesting the occupation,

none of it would have taken place."


Mr Pollak was born to leftist parents, who will be

present in court today. His father Yossi is one of

Israel's most prominent actors - among those pledged to

boycott performances some of Israel's leading theatres

are planning to stage in the West Bank Jewish

settlement of Ariel. His maternal grandfather, Nimrod

Eshel, was jailed for his leadership of a strike by

seamen in the 1950s.


He attended the first of very many demonstrations as a

months-old babe-in-arms at the huge mass rally in Tel

Aviv calling for an end to the first Lebanon war in

1982. What makes him and his Israeli comrades unusual,

however, is the decision to go beyond mere

demonstrations to, as he himself puts it, "crossing

sides, moving from protest to joining resistance".


A high school dropout at 15, he was a teenage animal

right activist, a cause with few Israeli adherents -

and most of those Israelis who were part of it were

anarchists. Very much part of Tel Aviv's young

counterculture in the politically relatively relaxed

Nineties, Mr Pollak became one too. He remains an

anarchist and a vegan, still a strong believer in

animal rights, which he sees as consistent with his

wider politics. For him, "racism, chauvinism, sexism,

speciesism all come from the same place of belittling

the other", he said.


A few minor brushes with the law appear to have been

enough to convince the army that he was not suitable

material for compulsory military service. "I don't

think they wanted me any more than I wanted them," he

said. He spent two years in the Netherlands, living in

a squat, before being deported back to Israel.


By this time, the second intifada was at its peak, and

Mr Pollak found himself drawn, despite the dangers for

a young Israeli of visiting the West Bank at the time,

to the unarmed dimension of the Palestinian cause -

including, most significantly, the very first anti-

barrier protests in the West Bank village of Jayyous.


According to Mr Morrar, a long-term opponent of armed

uprising, "Jonathan... is a man trying to prove that

those who believe in occupation cannot claim to be

humanitarian or civilised. He also wants to prove that

resisting oppression and occupation does not mean being

a terrorist or killing". Just as Mr Pollak learned his

Arabic on the Palestinian street, as a serial

leafleteer he discovered a talent for graphic design,

which makes him a living when he needs the money.


His lawyer, Gaby Lasky, has been arguing throughout the

case that his indictment was discriminatory. But if he

is convicted he will go to prison "wholeheartedly and

with my head held high", as he hopes to tell the court

in a polite but uncompromising address. He planned to

say: "It will be the justice system itself... that will

need to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering

inflicted on Gaza's inhabitants, just as it ... averts

its vision every day when faced with the realities of

the occupation."



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