The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on Monday sentenced left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak to three months' imprisonment for participating in an illegal gathering in January 2008.
Pollak, 28, is a resident of Tel Aviv and spokesman for the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, in which several Palestinian popular committees against the occupation participate. The January 2008 demonstration by several dozen activists on bicycles was in protest against the blockade of Gaza.
Judge Itzhak Yitzhak said when reading the sentence: "I am not sentencing the accused on the basis of the ideology embodied in his deeds … An examination of the matter … must be focused on the question whether the accused committed an offense or not."
In reply, Pollak read from a written statement: "Since I am unable to accept that what I did was wrong … I shall not agree to do community service as an alternative to imprisonment."
How were you arrested at that demonstration?
It was in the middle of our cycling route, on Bograshov Street in Tel Aviv. I was in the midst of the crowd. Two plainclothes policemen who know me and I know them approached me and took me off my bike. They said something to me like: "We told you if you raised your head, we would cut it off," and took me to a police van. The rest of the cyclists continued without any interference. No one else was arrested.
When you joined the cyclists, did you know that you were risking arrest?
I knew I was facing a suspended sentence (from a 2004 demonstration ). It's still difficult for me to see what was illegal, but I knew that the way things are in Israel, there was a chance that the suspension would be enacted.
The prosecutor who asked for a six-month sentence and a fine said that this was an illegal demonstration.
I am not a jurist but to the best of my knowledge, the police orders demand a permit for a demonstration in which more than 50 people participate. The prosecutor, who is a policewoman, is supposed to know that. We were about 40 people.
And had there been 2,000, would you have requested a permit?
I personally wouldn't have.
Because I don't believe that when you are demonstrating against a regime, the regime is the one that has to approve the demonstration.
Why do you need all this mess?
I don't know what other option there is in so extreme a situation, in which four million people are being kept under a military regime without democratic rights by a country that is interested in presenting a democratic image. In a situation where there is a blockade and collective punishment of 1.5 million people, can one hesitate at all whether to hold a very minimalist protest in Tel Aviv? It seems to me part of the duty of a human being, the least we can do. The question is not why I need all this mess but why so few people join in.
I have no reply to that question.
Since when have you been an activist?
Since childhood, at first with my parents. But it is possible to say that this activism has been the center of my life since I was 14 or 15. In various fields and not merely in the struggle against occupation: Animal rights, rights to an apartment for everyone – all these things are interconnected. It's not possible to develop a coherent political concept that does not see all the injustices that stem from the way in which society functions.
And you want to change society?
It sounds pretentious when you ask it that way. I want to live in a different place. Not geographically – I don't want to go somewhere else.
What will you miss most when you are in jail?
And to phrase it less bombastically?
To be able to do what I want to do. I don't think freedom is a bombastic word, it's the basis for everything. That's the reason we went out to demonstrate. The opposite of freedom is the blockade against Gaza, discrimination against non-Jews in Israel. That is the substance of jail.
Perhaps you'll have the chance to rest from your activities for a while in prison?
It doesn't seem to me that enforced rest, and in those conditions, is the best rest there is. But perhaps it is.
Do you have plans?
Have you not become a wholesale demonstrator? For example, in how many demonstrations do you participate on Fridays?
Only two – and I don't know what a wholesale demonstrator is. I believe that resistance is also part of the duty of every one of us. I don't like the way political activity is presented as something martyr-like. I think a great deal of lust is involved, and very strong emotions. And when you see the body of a colleague who has been killed alongside you, and you drag him away from the site, it merely grows stronger.
How many have been killed next to you?
Five. The first was in Nablus, many years ago, during a demonstration against the curfew. I didn't know him. And my friends – Mohammed Badwan from Bidu, in February 2004. A sniper on a roof hit his head with a live bullet during a demonstration against the fence. And Mohammed and Arafat Khawaja from Na'alin. Both of them were killed this week, two years ago, on the second day of the attack against Gaza. One got a bullet in his head and the other in his back. And there was Aqel Srur who was shot by a sniper in the heart, in June 2009.
Have you managed to influence anyone with your activities?
I don't know. I don't think we have to speak about every one of us personally. I believe that the activism of all of us has an effect on reality in all kinds of ways, on people and in other ways. And when I say us, it is first and foremost the Palestinians. It's important to remember that the popular resistance movement is firstly Palestinian and we, the Israelis, are only a marginal comment. All the same, I'm not trying to minimize our importance.
How long did it take you to write your speech to the court?
Did you get advice from anyone?
After I finished writing it, I sent it to a few people.
And did you change anything?
No. The reactions were that it might be worthwhile to soften it. But I didn't.
Are you afraid of prison?
Yes. I'm not yet sure of what, but I am.