Israel's Supreme Court Rejects Adalah's Petition to Allow Demonstrations in Palestinian Towns: Umm Al-Fahem and Sakhnin

Ruling deems sweeping ban on Palestinian protests during war Illegal, but rejects petition. Adalah: Lack of police manpower would have been an unacceptable justification to prevent Jewish protests. Police must approve demonstrations and abolish racist policies.

Today, 8 November 2023, Israel's Supreme Court rejected Adalah's petition, which sought to overturn the police's decision to deny permits for scheduled protests in the Palestinian towns of Umm Al-Fahem and Sakhnin, located in the north of Israel, as well as the cancellation of a sweeping directive issued by the Police Commissioner prohibiting demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza during the war. This petition was submitted on 6 November on behalf of the Hadash political party ("Jabha - The Front") and the secretaries of the branches of Maki (The Israeli Communist Party) in the Palestinian town of Umm al-Fahem and the Al-Batuf area.


    CLICK HERE to read more about the petition

    CLICK HERE to read the judgment (Hebrew)


Supreme Court Justice Yitzhak Amit, who wrote the unanimous opinion, held that “An absolute and general prohibition that prohibits in advance demonstrations based on their content is not within the authority of the Police Commissioner,” noting that according to the police, such a directive sweepingly prohibiting protests was not set, and that “the statement quoted from the Police Commissioner pertained to demonstrations that could incite” rather than a general directive. 


As to the specific protests that the police rejected the request to hold, the court held that "With regard to the requested demonstration in Umm Al-Fahm, located in the Hof district under police jurisdiction, the respondents noted that over the years, protests have taken place that were often accompanied by stone-throwing incidents against police officers, blockages of main roads, incitement to terrorism, and public order disturbances." Judge Amit also cited to the police's mention of the May 2021 Events in connection to the scheduled protests in Sakhnin, noting that in May 2021, “a mob, incited to attack the residents of the scattered small Jewish villages in the region,” and “the current assessment is that a dangerous escalation will unfold.”


The court did not rule on these arguments but instead rejected the petition based on the police's claims that their severe manpower shortage due to the ongoing war does not allow them to allocate sufficient personnel to ensure that such demonstrations do not disrupt public order. The court held that “Given the heavy workload the police have been dealing with for approximately the past month, it is not possible for them to allocate the necessary manpower to ensure public order during the specific protest in question.”


During the court hearing, the police made clear that their primary concern was incitement rather than potential violence during the protests in question. When Justice Yael Willner asked the police’s Coastal District Commander if he was concerned about incitement to terror, the commander answered, “Without question”.


Alongside these perilous developments, the court also underscored that "the right to demonstrate and assemble is one of the important basic rights.” Further emphasizing that such freedom “does not belong to only one camp or one side of the political spectrum, and it is intended to protect not only accepted and agreeable opinions but also "unexceptional, outrageous, and infuriating opinions, expressed in the context of turbulent events and in a blunt and unpleasant manner.”


Adalah commented:


“Despite the Supreme Court's acknowledgment that the Police Commissioner does not have the authority to sweepingly prohibit political protests of Palestinian citizens, the court accepted the police's claims of a manpower shortage, an argument that would be rejected if the petitioners were Jewish-Israeli protesters. The court expressed its concern that the police are maintaining a discriminatory policy. However, it did not reject the police's racist assessments regarding Palestinian cities, which are rooted in their view of all Palestinian citizens as a public security threat. The mere suggestion that the protestors should consider an indoor event as an alternative to their intent to express their position in the public sphere is extremely concerning. Therefore, the Police must approve any future requests of Palestinians to demonstrate; otherwise, it will be clear that they have no right to demonstrate during times of war."


Related Press Releases:


Adalah, Hadash, and Maki Petition the Supreme Court Against Police Ban on Palestinian Political Protests During the War 


Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90