Activist Jonathan Pollak Sentenced to 3 Months
Monday, 27 December 2010
Israeli Activist Jonathan Pollak Sentenced to 3
Months in Prison; Tells Judge "I'll Go to prison With my
Head Held High"
Pollak was sentenced to three months imprisonment this morning at the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court for his participation in a 2008 bicycle in protest of the siege on Gaza. He will begin serving his sentence on Januray 11th.
Tel Aviv Magistrates court judge Yitzhak Yitzhak convicted Pollak of illegal assembly for his participation in a January 2008 Critical Mass ride against the siege on Gaza and then sentenced him to three months imprisonment that will begin on January 11th, 2011. Pollak was the only one detained at the said protest, and was accused of doing nothing other than riding his bicycle in the same manner as the rest of the protesters. The conviction activates an older three-month suspended sentence, imposed on Pollak in a previous trial for protesting the construction of the Separation Barrier. An additional three months prison term was also imposed for the current conviction, which will be served concurrently.
On his conviction, Pollak argued for his sentence, saying "I find myself unable to express remorse in this case [...]. If His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, 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." See Pollak's full statement bellow.
On January 31, 2008, some 30 protesters participated in a Critical Mass bicycle ride through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest of 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. The protest was allowed to continue undisturbed after Pollak's arrest and ended with no further incidents or detentions.
The arrest and consequent indictment appears to be the result of police vindictiveness, rather than of Pollak's behavior at the time of the event; Pollak was but one in a group of protesters who behaved exactly like him, yet he was the only one to be singled out. Moreover, environmental Critical Mass events take place in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but have never been met with such a response. Other protests, which have caused far more sever obstruction of traffic (e.g. the motorcade protest of thousands of motorcycles) did not result in arrests, and surely did not lead to the filing of criminal charges and imprisonment.
Adv. Gaby Lasky, Pollak's lawyer: "The police not only singled out Pollak from a crowd of people who all did exactly as he did, but also singled out the entire protest for no reason other than its political alignment. Similar events regularly take place in Tel Aviv without police intervention, let alone arrests and indictments.”
Your Honor, once found guilty, it is then customary for the accused to ask the court for leniency, and express remorse for having committed the offence. However, I find myself unable to do so. From its very beginning, this trial contained practically no disagreements over the facts. As the indictment states, I indeed rode my bicycle, alongside others, through the streets of Tel Aviv, to protest the siege on Gaza. And indeed, while riding our bicycles, which are legally vehicles belonging on the road, we may have slightly slowed down traffic. The sole and trivial disagreement in this entire case revolves around testimonies heard from police detectives, who claimed I played a leading role throughout the protest bicycle ride, something I, as well as the rest of the Defense witnesses, deny.
As said earlier, it is customary at this point of the proceedings to sound remorseful, and I would indeed like to voice my regrets regarding one particular aspect of that day's events: if there is remorse in my heart, it is that, just as I argued during the trial, I did not play a prominent role in the protest that day, and thus did not fulfill my duty to do everything within my power to change the unbearable situation of Gaza's inhabitants, and bring to an end Israel's control over the Palestinians.
His Honor has stated during the court case, and will most likely state again in the future, that a trial is not a matter of politics, but of law. To this I reply that there is hardly anything to this trial except political disagreement. This Court may have impeded the mounting of an appropriate defense when it refused to hear arguments regarding political selectiveness in the Police's conduct, but even from the testimonies which were admitted, it became clear such a selectiveness exists.
The subject of my alleged offense, as well as the motivation behind it were political. This is something that cannot be sidestepped. The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.
In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society's privileged sons.
I am not surprised by the Court's decision to convict me despite having no doubt in my mind that our actions on that day correspond to the most basic, elementary definitions of a person's right to protest.
Indeed, as the Prosecution pointed out, a suspended prison sentence hung over my head at the time of the bicycle protest, having been convicted before under an identical article of law. And, although I still maintain I did not commit any offense whatsoever, I was aware of the possibility that under Israeli justice, my suspended sentence would be imposed.
I must add that, if His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, 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.