Pubdate: Sun, 09 May 2004
Source: Jerusalem Post (Israel)
Copyright: 2004 The Jerusalem Post
Author: Harry Rubenstein
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


Uniformed and undercover police officers on Saturday shut down the
International Marijuana Day event at HaYarkon Park in Tel Aviv after
detaining 30 participants, including three minors, for suspected use
and possession of marijuana.

Boaz Wachtel, an organizer of the event and head of the "Green Leaf"
political party was among those detained for questioning.

At approximately 3:45 p.m., about four hours after the event began,
police swarmed upon the sound system and shut it off as partygoers
were dancing to Peter Tosh's reggae classic "Legalize It." A large
crowd gathered around the police, with many shouting "Police state"
and "Fascists."

Although tensions were high, except for a few shoves, violence was
averted. A police photographer and videographer were on hand keeping
their cameras focused on the more vocal protesters.

"I came to the conclusion that this was a drug party and violation of
the law won't be tolerated. After thirty people were arrested for
using drugs, it was decided to close down the event," said Brigadier
General Aaron Ezra of the Tel Aviv police.

The event, which has been held without disruption for the past six
years, had a substantial higher profile this year due to the first
time participation of a member of the Knesset. But police shut down
the event just 15 minutes before MK Roman Bronfman (Meretz) was
scheduled to deliver a speech.

"From my standpoint, today's event is legal, after the high court
rejected a petition (to ban the event) and after the city of Tel Aviv
gave authorization for the event to be held," Bronfman told reporters
at the event. "I think the police were the ones who disturbed the peace.

The police knew I was supposed to speak at 4:00 p.m., and I interpret
what happened here now as a suppression of free speech and not
allowing a Knesset member to express his opinion." Bronfman said that
the police told him the event was shut down due to instances of drug
use, but the MK emphasized that rather than ending the event the
police should have arrested only those who were using drugs.

According to a copy of the Bronfman's undelivered speech received by
the Jerusalem Post, the MK intended to say that although he does not
support drug use, he believes the current "scare campaign" is a total
failure. Bronfman was to announce his intention to introduce two
related laws in the Knesset.

One would allow persons with various illnesses whose symptoms can be
alleviated by marijuana to obtain a prescription for medicinal
marijuana directly from a doctor, whereas currently they must go to
the director general of the health ministry or via a special panel.

The second law would decriminalize use of marijuana and

Approximately an hour before the event was shut down, one speaker
issued a warning to attendees that undercover police forces were
looking to arrest people for smoking cannabis and urged the crowd to
drink beer instead, even though he claimed alcohol causes poses a
greater health risk.

"This happens at every party," said a 24-year-old Ramat Gan resident
who identified himself as Dekel.

"The police see people enjoying themselves and think this represents
all the problems in the state, so they try to stop the enjoyment of
all the people here who are trying to show that this is a progressive
country and not a country like Iran."

Eran Vered, an organizer of the event said, "We tried to organize a
protest event . as is allowed in a democratic state. The police
apparently decided that this wasn't to their liking, so in a cruel and
brutal manner they closed the picnic.

The police arrested maybe one, two, or ten people smoking an illegal
substance - grass - and apparently they decided that this picnic had
the potential for drug use and closed it down completely. Apparently
they felt that the participation of a member of Knesset was not good
for them."

Rehavia Berman, from Legalize it - Israel and a former spokesman of
the Green Leaf party, said, "Health Minister Danny Naveh was supposed
to speak, but instead speaking like a man and receiving boos or
silence from the crowd, he arranged in advance for there to be no
reason for him to come." But maybe Naveh wasn't the one responsible,
he added.

"Every Saturday at every soccer stadium police find flares and weapons
that can kill people, and they don't shut down the game. They take the
people who have these banned items and arrest them. That's the law! To
shut down the event, isn't the law. There are legal decisions on this.
Police are simply ignoring these rulings and doing what's convenient
for them.

Because of tomorrow if we win a legal ruling that says what they did
isn't right, it doesn't matter because they already shut down the
event," Berman said.

Although some participants at the event expressing political agendas
and circulating petitions, the vast majority of the crowd appeared to
be basking in the afternoon sun, playing Frisbee and dancing to the
music. It was only when the police shut down the event that it became
overtly politicized. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake