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  • Writer's pictureOmer Eilam

A Night at the Police Station

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

As the general elections here in Israel are up and coming and the climate and ecological crisis is not really on the agenda of any of the major parties, Extinction Rebellion organised a graffiti action with the motto "the climate crisis isn't waiting for the next elections" to be sprayed outside all party headquarters. My partner, a lovely woman from Tel Aviv, and I were to target two headquarters in the northern part pf the city, and since we had all the equipment with us we decided to use it also in the streets in order to raise public awareness.

Not too long after we started a police car drove by and noticed us. We immediately dropped all the incriminating stencils and spray paints and started walking nonchalantly. But it was too late: the cops came out of the car and told us to stop. They separated me from my partner and started questioning us. At first they thought we were trying to steal a nearby motorcycle because our stuff was lying next to it but then they realised what was really happening. Eventually they decided to arrest us, putting cuffs on our hands and legs, and driving us to a nearby police station, all the while instructing us not to talk to each other so as not to disrupt investigative proceedings.

Around 3 am we arrived at the station. Two persons were already there who were detained before us and awaiting further investigation. This meant we had to wait for many hours before it was our turn to be questioned. We were put in adjacent cells and reminded not to talk to each other. Outside the holding cells, sitting at a desk, was a police officer, a big guy in his 40s with a cheerful temper, who was meant to guard us and take care of our needs if necessary. My partner realised that while she is forbidden from talking with me she might be able to speak with him. I don't know if it was to ease the stress or out of curiosity but it worked and he was quite communicative. He talked about his life in the police force: the adrenalin rushes from the field work, the scorn he has to swallow in protests, the satisfaction from helping people in trouble, and many other honest confessions. He talked in length about his relationship with his daughter, how his work as a policeman makes him much more protective of her, feeling it's imperative to save her from the dangerous world of villains out there. And I was thinking of my brother and how his work as a medical doctor is making him more protective of his daughter, feeling it's imperative to save her from the dangerous world of viruses out there. And then I was thinking of us humans, how we created this dangerous world of villains and viruses in the first place, and how we keep adding fuel to the fire with our fears and our egos.

At 7 am the first officer finished his shift and another one came to replace him while we were still waiting for our investigation. An older man this time, close to his pension, and as friendly and communicative as the first. He told us that as a boy he was sent to a yeshiva, an educational institution for orthodox jews focused on the study of traditional religious texts. When he turned 17 he decided to leave the yeshiva and discover the secular world, albeit still holding on to traditional jewish laws and values. He did his military service as a fighter and then joined a program where he could work in a Kibbutz while completing a basic high school education. Eventually he even enrolled at the university and studied for a Bachelor in the History of Arts. After this lengthy autobiographical monologue he said that we were probably dying to know how he found his way into the police force. To be honest it didn't occur to me and probably neither to my partner, but I sensed that this question was accompanying him for many years during his service. He later confessed that in his soul he always wanted to be a teacher, but apparently life had other plans. At some point we got to talk about our eating habits. He said he was vegetarian and that some members of his family are vegan, which he holds in high regard. He told us that according to the bible meat was forbidden in the early days of humanity and only after the flood God permitted it, seeing how strong the lust of the flesh was for Man. When he realised that my partner was vegan he told her she has a lofty soul.

Finally they came to take me to the investigation room. The detective seemed either tired or not very enthusiastic. I could imagine he would prefer dealing with more meaningful things than a couple of environmental activists painting the streets. He asked me about what we were doing out there, about my hands being covered with paint, about the spray bottles in my partner's backpack and the paint covered stencils. He also showed me pictures of the graffitis they discovered which matched the text on the stencils. I thought it was senseless to deny anything but based on the few debriefs I heard about how to conduct oneself under investigation I chose the right to remain silent when answering most of his questions. At last he asked me if I had anything else to add and I said that I was sorry for not being more cooperative and that I hope we will all strive for a more beautiful world. After the questioning I was taken to another room so he could take my profile picture and finger prints. So much bureaucracy for such a small offence seemed unreasonable but at that moment I was way too tired to think of reason.

The detective brought me back to the holding cell and told me I should call someone to act as bail and get me out of custody. I called my mom and asked her to come. He then took my partner with him for it was her turn to be questioned. Shortly after two new persons were brought in to the holding cell. They were Palestinian arabs and caught without a residence or a working permit. Apparently they make up a high percentage of the arrestees as they cannot really earn enough money for food where they live so they are forced to look for illegal work where Israeli law does not permit them to be. The officer, same one as before, did not pay much attention to them and instead wanted to continue our conversation. He asked if I studied anything and I told him that I'm actually a doctor of biology and a musician. He was noticeably surprised and asked what the hell I was doing there. "You tell me", I said. He said he felt ashamed and I said that it is just like in the movies, where everyone is playing their parts according to the roles provided by the system: the police officer, the activist, the illegal resident, etc. etc.

My partner came back from her questioning. It seemed to have gone faster than mine; perhaps the detective didn't have the patience to go over all the senseless proceedings one more time. A few minutes later my mom called to say that she arrived. My handcuffs were gone at this point, I don't remember who took them off of me or when, but the legcuffs were still there. I asked the officer if he could remove them before she comes and he agreed. I gave a big hug to my partner and left together with the detective who showed me the way out. My mom was waiting in the police station lobby, looking concerned and trying not to be over sentimental as she passed through the gate. She came towards me, I offered her an embarrassed smile and she gently caressed my back. We went to the detective's room in order to sign the release documents. He told me I was forbidden from having contact with my partner and from visiting Tel Aviv for the next 15 days. We both signed and left the station.

Spending a night at the police station makes you see the system from within, with all its flaws and contradictions; like an officer admitting that neither you nor the illegal resident sitting beside you should really be there. To my regret we will see more and more contradictions like these, whose purpose is to wake us up so that we change direction towards a more beautiful world. A world where we are not governed by a loveless system but guided by our longing to be more and more connected, to each other and to the earth.

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