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54 volunteer cops freezing service over judicial overhaul; 1,000 said facing ouster

Israel Police said Wednesday that 54 volunteer officers have requested a freeze of their volunteer service with the law enforcement agency, apparently due to opposition to the hardline government’s contentious judicial overhaul, while a report said a further thousand volunteers stand to be ejected from the force for taking part in protests against the overhaul plan.

In addition, police said that 10 volunteer officers had been cut from the force after they “expressed themselves politically and even used their volunteering for the benefit of this activity.”

According to Channel 12 news, police intend to kick out around 1,000 police volunteers who have participated in the protests. It was unclear where the figure came from.

The report said that a lawyer representing those volunteers had written to the police to request that their service not be frozen for taking part in the protests.

“It is clear that we shouldn’t withhold [the ability to serve] from a volunteer who wishes to remain within the Israel Police and continue serving, even if they decide to participate in the demonstrations,” wrote Daniel Haklai, on behalf of the police volunteers who protested against the legislation. “The volunteers wish to continue serving while expressing legitimate criticism.”

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According to Israel Police, around 24,600 people volunteer their service.

An injured demonstrator is dragged by police to during a protest against plans by Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, July 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The police statement also denied “false reports” on the matter, without specifying what it was referring to.

In addition to police, some 10,000 Israel Defense Forces reservists will suspend their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system, a large protest group announced last month.

The announcements came amid growing allegations of rising violence from police at the anti-judicial overhaul protests nationwide.

Police chief Kobi Shabtai has denied claims from some activists that law enforcement activity has grown more violent in recent weeks under the influence of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has repeatedly pushed for a harsher crackdown on protesters, and was behind the ouster of Tel Aviv’s police chief Ami Eshed, who resisted rough treatment of demonstrators and took his leave from the force last month.

During last week’s protests, videos showed police kicking protesters who were lying on the ground, throwing burning pallets toward them, dragging activists by their hair and using violence during arrests of those allegedly blocking roads and highways, including those who were not resisting arrest.

Police also deployed water cannons against protesters who were not blocking roads or engaging in any illegal activity.

On Wednesday, the chief of the Tel Aviv police’s Yasam special patrol unit, Yair Hanuna, and four other officers were set to be questioned by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) over allegations they used excessive force against protesters.

Yair Hanuna arrives for questioning at the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hanuna was seen in widely circulated images punching Amitai Aboudi after the 18-year-old had already been handcuffed. The family of the teenager filed a complaint against Hanuna after the incident.

In video of Aboudi’s arrest, he is seen being hit and dragged by a group of police officers on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. In a photo of the incident, Hanuna can be seen apparently smiling while allegedly hitting Aboudi. Police have denied that Hanuna hit the teen after he was subdued.

הי @10elilevi
אמיתי בריליאנט בן 18 מוסר ד"ש

— יוסי מזרחי Yossi Mizrachi (@yosimiz1) July 25, 2023

Hanuna and the other officers are suspected of beating protesters in three separate incidents in Tel Aviv, Channel 12 reported. Multiple complaints by protesters have been filed against Hanuna, including that he broke a demonstrator’s nose at a rally last month in Tel Aviv.

The officers involved were not wearing bodycams at the time of the arrest, in contravention of regulations, Kan reported.

Police have defended officers’ conduct during the protests. Ben Gvir backed up the officers, saying PIID was trying to “threaten the Yasam commander of Tel Aviv, an outstanding officer, only because he acted to enforce the law with determination.”