On December 27, Anarchists Against the Wall co-founder Jonathan Pollak was slapped with a three month prison sentence for illegal assembly. He was convicted by an Israeli magistrate judge for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass bike ride through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest of Israel’s brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip. Though Pollak was offered community service, he accepted prison time because he was convinced that he had done nothing wrong.
The day before Pollak was sentenced, an Israeli judge handed down a sentence of six months of community service to Michael Naky. Naky’s crime? He helped devise and detonate a pipe bomb in order to kill as many homosexuals as possible at the 2007 Jerusalem gay pride parade.
In a single day in Israel’s kangaroo courts, a right-wing terrorist was sentenced to a few months of street cleaning while a non-violent activist dedicated to stopping the occupation was jailed under the most specious charges. And while Pollak’s sentencing was reported with great fanfare in Israel’s major papers, Naky’s passed below the radar (Yedioth devoted just six lines). The contrast in punishments represented just another symptom of a sick society unwilling to face the Molock in the mirror.
The state has made little effort to disguise the political nature of Pollak’s prosecution. He was not a ringleader of the Critical Mass protest, nor did he behave in an unusual manner. He simply rode his bike slowly, disrupting the normal flow of traffic along with dozens of demonstrators. However, the police recognized him as a prominent organizer of unarmed protests against the Israeli military repression in the West Bank, singled him out and arrested him.
I have documented Pollak’s actions at protests across the West Bank, where he spends most of his weekends, and I witnessed the respect he has earned from the residents of besieged Palestinian villages who count on him as their liaison to the outside world — a realm that the state of Israel has largely forbidden them from interacting with. Last summer, Pollak helped me gain entry into Ofer Military Prison to witness the show trials of Palestinian popular committee members who organize the unarmed protests against the Israeli segregation wall. He has done the same for numerous European diplomats, including British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who declared after a harrowing tour of the Israeli Occupation that Pollak helped arrange: “Popular resistance to the Occupation is the sole remaining possible alternative for the Palestinians to achieve their rights and avoid armed struggle.”
It is clear why the Israeli justice system acted in such a draconian fashion against Pollak: His activism is making an impact against the Occupation.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel chief legal counsel Dan Yakir described the political nature of Pollak’s prosecution succinctly when he said, “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.”
Naky’s lenient sentencing appeared to have been influenced by politics as well, especially when viewed in light of the state’s treatment of other right-wing terrorists. Chaim Pearlman, a fanatical settler suspected of stabbing to death three Palestinians in cold blood, was set free after a month in Shin Bet custody. And Jack Teitel, another Jewish settler convicted of randomly murdering several Palestinians and attempting to kill the Israeli left-wing intellectual Zeev Sternhell (Teitel also planned to attack the 2006 Jerusalem gay pride parade), was allowed to plead insanity and ruled unfit to stand trial.
The Israeli justice system has extended no such privileges to Palestinians like Ibrahim Amireh or Abdullah Abu Rahmeh, who rot in Israeli military prisons for resisting their dispossession through unarmed protest. And the state is leveling every legal weapon at its disposal against activists like Pollak, who declared at his sentencing hearing: “I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza’s inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.”