The Tel Aviv Magistrates Court has found two policemen guilty of brutality against an "orange" anti-Disengagement protestor - thanks to an on-site video taken by Arutz-7 journalist-cameraman Tuvia Lerner.
The two Yassam-unit policemen, Eran Naim and Eliran Avraham, were found guilty of beating demonstrator Akiva Vitkin without cause during an anti-Disengagement road-blocking demonstration on June 29, 2005. Naim is seen in the video appearing to be trying to pull Vitkin's nose off by sticking his fingers in his nostrils from behind and pulling up, and Avraham later beat Vitkin repeatedly in the police station.
The judge wrote that he had been presented with solid evidence by the plaintiffs, while the police defendants provided only weak testimonies in their favor. This, after observers said he appeared to express sympathy with the policemen at various points during the trial.
The policemen's lawyer claimed during the trial that Vitkin had committed grave acts by lying on the road and blocking traffic, including that of security vehicles. Orit Strook, of the Yesha Civil Rights organization, said that the judge ruled that police may use reasonable force when in danger or to make an arrest, but not as punishment. It was Strook's organization, together with Atty. Nadav HaEtzni, that filed the suit against the policemen.
The policemen's lawyer also stated that "fingers in nostrils" is a legitimate police tactic against demonstrators, one that is studied in the police martial arts school. The judge later stated that the major issue of the case is how to set the limits of police force against demonstrators.
Officer Eran Naim was caught on tape by Arutz-7’s Lerner taking part in what Lerner later said was a "cruel, shocking and pre-meditated attack." Despite attempts by the police to obstruct his view by standing tightly around the victim, Lerner managed to film the attack on a digital camera. Naim is first seen on motioning to his colleagues to help beat the demonstrator, after which they sit on him and stick their fingers in his nose and mouth, causing extensive bleeding and facial injuries. Naim is also seen beating 58-year-old Rabbi Dr. Yisrael Katz, after the Rabbi appealed to him to refrain from beating girls present at the road-blocking.
Lerner said he heard someone call out, "Photographer!" and that when he turned around, he saw three policemen sitting on Vitkin, bending his arms, and putting handcuffs on him. "There is no doubt that a man in this position is totally neutralized and cannot endanger anyone," Lerner said. "I pointed my camera towards them and towards what they were doing to him. The policeman who was wearing an ID tag with the name Eliran Avraham tried to prevent me from taking the pictures. He pushed me and kept on turning my camera away and threatened to arrest me. His behavior just intensified my suspicions. Through the screen of my camera I saw the officer, wearing a name tag with the name Eran Naim, go behind the demonstrator, go on top of him, and stick his full hand towards his face. He stuck his fingers into the man's nostrils and pulled upwards and backwards in a fast and professional way, and tore his whole face, including a blow at his eyes."
"I realized I had incriminating material in my camera. I saw how nervous/angry the policeman Eliran Avraham was, in his fear that I might have managed to catch the act on my camera despite the wall of policemen blocking it, and he continued to threaten to arrest me. That's why I didn't photograph Eran Naim when he walked aside to wipe off his hands that were filled with the blood of the demonstrator; I didn't want to take a chance on losing the material that I already had.
"The policemen immediately picked up the wounded demonstrator and arrested him, while he was dripping blood. His head, nose and eyes were almost totally covered with blood... No one else filmed this very difficult scene. But what worries me more than anything is that I gave the material to the three main television channels - Channel 1 (Israel Broadcasting Authority), Channel Two and Channel Ten - and none of them showed real interest in receiving it. This, despite the fact that I had already done all the 'dirty work' and found the demonstrator... Both he and I agreed to be interviewed, but some of the reporters told me, off the record, that it was a waste of effort because their editors would not approve it [for political reasons]..."
Akiva Vitkin later told Arutz-7 what happened from his point of view:
"...Suddenly, four or five policemen surrounded and grabbed me - each one with his own job: One choked me, one bent my arms, one poked his fingers very strongly into my nose up and down - on two different occasions - and it felt as if he was trying to push my nose into my skull. It hurt terribly. And another one poked my eyes very strongly. They handcuffed me and dragged me to the truck, and then to the police station. I asked for medical assistance, they said OK, but didn't give me... A few of us [arrestees] were there together talking, and the policemen said to be quiet. I said they can't take away our right to speak. One guy looked at me as if he was about to kill me and said, 'Is that so?' He then took me into a side room where there was a bunch of policemen and they all started beating me up. Punches to the head, kicks, everything, while at the same time, one of them was trying to put handcuffs on me. When they finished, they sat me on a chair, with my hands handcuffed behind me, and one guy started slapping and punching me in my face and head with all his strength. I of course couldn't defend myself. It was just like one long terrible painful hurt; I couldn't feel each individual punch..." He said they later beat him twice more - and that one of them later said, 'What you got today is nothing compared to what often goes on here.' ... They finally photographed me, and then, at 1 AM, just let me go, just like that."