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.
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