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Israeli activist arrested for wearing hat depicting Palestinian killed by soldiers

Gil Hamerschlag was detained and asked to sign terms of release as well as pay hefty fines
Israeli police stand in Jerusalem's Old City in February 2023 (AFP)
By Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem

A Jerusalem-based Israeli activist has been arrested and detained for wearing a cap depicting a Palestinian who was killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2021. 

The activist, identified as Gil Hammerschlag, was arrested on Tuesday, after being accused of "behaving in a way that may disturb public peace" and "spotted wearing a hat and behaving suspiciously".

The hat worn by Hammerschlag had the image of Atef Hanaysha on it. The 47-year-old farmer from the village of Beit Dajan in the occupied West Bank was shot in the head and killed in March 2021 during a protest against the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the area.

Footage taken from the scene at the time showed fellow protesters carrying Hanaysha away to a Nablus hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. 

Noa Noy, an Israeli activist and friend of Hammerschlag said that his arrest was "crazy".

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"I think this marks a new shift in the way that police treat Israeli leftist activists," she told Middle East Eye.

"I don't remember a similar case in the past where someone was arrested with the claim that their hat is an incitement for violence, it's crazy."

The case has reached Jerusalem’s District Court where the judge maintained that the evidence presented "reasonable suspicion of the crimes attributed to him".

“His presence within the Old City near the Temple Mount while wearing the aforementioned hat apparently has the potential to disturb public peace,” Judge Michal Sharvit stated. 

Release under certain conditions

Israeli police have offered to release Hammerschlag, but only if he signs restrictive terms of release.

These conditions state that he would not be able to enter Jerusalem’s Old City for 15 days, must pay a fine of 2,000 shekels ($538), and find a guarantor for an additional 10,000 shekels ($2,690).

Hammerschlag has refused to sign either the full terms or a set of reduced terms that would lessen the duration of his expulsion from the Old City to one week.

“I will not sign this condition, it is an act of violence. There is no basis for suspicion, and I am not willing to be excluded, even for a shorter period of time,” he told Judge Anat Greenbaum Shimon.

The activist remains in custody and is expected to appear before the Jerusalem District Court again later on Friday. 

Police brutality

Activists have condemned the targeting of peaceful protesters by Israeli police using what they call "intense violence". 

Noy says that there has been a heavy-handed crackdown on protesters in recent days.

"When we protested for Iyad Hallaq, the Magav brutality against us was very extreme, they pushed me and others to the floor, and they were very violent and aggressive," she said, referring to the Israeli border police.

'The Magav brutality against us was very extreme, they pushed me and others to the floor, and they were very violent and aggressive'

- Noa Noy, Israeli activist

Protests were held in Jerusalem this week after an Israeli court acquitted the border police officer who was charged with manslaughter after he shot dead autistic Palestinian man Iyad al-Hallaq in May 2020. 

According to Noy, arrested protesters are often given heavy fines and restrictions that are often disproportionate and do not make sense. 

"We had another protest a few days ago, and more activists were arrested. The release conditions were not logical, and more severe than they used to be," she explained.

Some of the conditions of release included the prohibition of participating in any political activity for six months.

"The crackdown on Israeli activists is getting worse, they [Israeli police] are arresting and targeting us," says Noy.

Protesting against forced evictions 

Hammerschlag has previously protested against forced evictions in Jerusalem. 

In May 2021, he took part in demonstrations against Israel’s forced evictions in the occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. 

According to Amnesty USA, he was shoved and kicked by Israeli forces, who also threw sound grenades at peaceful demonstrators from less than 10 metres away. 

Palestinians were left injured following the attack on the demonstrators, with a photographer at the scene also describing how police on horseback charged towards crowds of people who were chanting peacefully. 

This is not the first time Hammerschlag has been detained by Israeli police. 

Videos shared online in September 2020 also show what appears to be Hammerschlag being arrested by Israeli police for not wearing a mask.

According to the video, he spent one night in the Darim prison after being detained. 

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