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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 5

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 5

Subject:

Israeli Activist Jailed for Bike Protest

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Date:

Wed, 29 Dec 2010 12:33:29 -0500

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Israeli Activist Jailed for Bike Protest

(Two Takes)

By Robert Mackey
New York Times blog
December 28, 2010

http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/28/israeli-activist-jailed-for-bike-protest/

Photo:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/jewish-activist-faces-jail-for-west-bank-resistance-2169876.html?action=Popup

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.

(2)

Jewish activist faces jail for West Bank resistance

By Donald Macintyre in Tel Aviv
The Independent (UK)
December 27, 2010

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/jewish-activist-faces-%20jail-for-west-bank-resistance-2169876.html

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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