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Israeli Knesset passes stop and frisk law for 'suspicious' individuals

Feb. 3, 2016 9:46 P.M. (Updated: April 19, 2016 3:32 P.M.)
Israeli forces search a Palestinian at the entrance of Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City on Oct. 4, 2015. (MaanImages/Emily Mulder, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel’s Knesset on Tuesday passed a new law allowing Israeli forces to stop and frisk “individuals who appear suspicious” for unlicensed weapons.

A statement released by the Knesset said the measure was passed 39 to 31 during its third and final reading.

The new law will permit Israeli police officers to search “anyone in a place prone to violence if they have reason to believe he or she may use a weapon,” the statement said.

“If someone is fighting or is engaged in ‘verbal violence’ -- without a visual clue that the person may be carrying a weapon -- that person could be searched and evidence found would be admissible in court,” according to the Knesset statement.

The bill stipulates that an officer also now has the legal ability to search anyone, regardless of behavior, in a “location that is thought to be a target for hostile destructive actions,” referring to situations where there is a “suspicion of terrorism.”

Such locations can be declared as such by a regional commander for a period of 21 days which may be extended for up to two months.

Knesset member Ilan Gilon of the Meretz party criticized the new law, saying the measure ”perpetuates the viewpoint that every citizen is guilty until proven innocent -- exactly the opposite of what criminal law should be.”

MK Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List for his part said: ”This law sends a message to police officers: ‘do whatever you want. There is no need for any criteria, and everything can be approved retroactively.'”

The new law comes as Palestinian citizens of Israel and particularly Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem already come under heavy surveillance and searches by Israeli forces.

The law initially received major push back from Israeli human rights groups who argued the measure would lead to racial profiling by Israeli security forces.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel lobbied against the law but welcomed changes approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The group said in a statement last month that a revised version of the bill “substantially restrains the powers of the police and achieves a better balance between the need to preserve public order and individual rights.”

According to the group, the law that was passed was more limited than initially proposed, permitted searches only in cases of “real verbal abuse” and includes “stricter conditions for conducting more invasive searches.”

Regardless of the changes, ACRI expressed “significant concern” for “unacceptable profiling of Ethiopians, Arabs and people of Middle Eastern background.”

The group said the communities still faced high risk of over policing and voiced concern over discriminatory behavior of police.
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