Far-right MK accuses border police of sexual assault during tree removal protest

Limor Son Har-Melech’s lawyer claims Border Police officers ‘clung’ to her


Otzma Yehudit party member Limor Son Har-Melech seen after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government after the results of the country's general election were announced. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** נשיא המדינה עם פתיחת ההתייעצויות עם המפלגות השונות יצחק הרצוג בחירות בית הנשיא מתייעץ התייעצות ממליצים עוצמה יהודית לימור סון הר מלך

Israeli MK Limor Son Har-Melech of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party has filed an official complaint against a group of police officers who she says sexually harassed her during a confrontation in the West Bank on Thursday.

The incident occurred as Son Har-Melech and other activists attempted to stop security forces from removing trees that were illegally planted by a settler in the northern West Bank. The officers huddled around the MK in a circle and, as she tried to break free, one of them allegedly sexually harassed her.

In a complaint submitted to the Police Internal Investigations Department in the Justice Ministry, Ms Son Har-Melech accused the officers of “serious abuse” and a “blatant violation of her parliamentary immunity.” 

Otzma Yehudit Party leader Itamar Ben Gvir MK seconded the complaint and accused Benjamin Netanyahu of reneging on his coalition promises by not referring authority for the West Bank border police to his national security brief.

She also accused the officers of carrying out “acts that reached the point of violence and sexual harassment.” As an MK Ms Son Har-Melech would usually be exempt from movement restrictions ordinary citizens must abide by.

The incident was captured on video and occurred as cops attempted to hold onto the MK as she tried to wriggle out of their cordon. The far-right politician was one of two MKs who joined dozens of activists as they physically impeded security forces from carrying out their order. 

A number of demonstrators were arrested as violence reportedly erupted between them and security forces in multiple confrontations. After the incident, police released a statement asserting that they had operated with “great sensitivity and determination while leading respectful dialogue and showing professional conduct during the incident.” 

However, in the same confrontation, police officers violently arrested a man during the protests, leading to the suspension of three Border Police officers. Video footage appeared to show several protestors forcefully detained in the ruckus, including one man being pushed to the floor by police with one officer punching and another kicking. 

Head of the Border Police Amir Cohen has since said the incidents will be investigated. 

On Thursday, more than 24 hours after the incident, officers appeared in the middle of the night to complete the removal of the trees from the plot. However, according to The Times of Israel, defence establishment sources told Channel 12 that the operation had resumed on Wednesday evening, after the confrontations with settler activists, and the remainder of the trees were uprooted at that time.

The MK’s lawyer, Eladi Wiesel of the NYC-based pro bono Honenu firm, claimed that officers “used force that culminated in one of the officers clinging to the MK and sticking his leg between her legs in an offensive way, which, at the very least, is considered a prohibited assault and in some circumstances can be considered sexual harassment.”

The complaint also said that security personnel used excessive force throughout the incident near the Shiloh West Bank settlement, and “severely infringed on” Ms Son Har-Melech’s “privacy and modesty” as an Orthodox Jewish woman.

Responding to the MK’s allegations, police said in a statement: “The Border Police commander was updated throughout the incident, and it is important to emphasise that in addition to the immunity and freedom of movement the MK enjoys, the forces acted with great sensitivity and determination while leading respectful dialogue and exhibiting professional conduct during the incident.”

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