The best response to Israel’s new stop-and-frisk law: Stop showering

A new law in Israel gives police broad powers to search anyone in an area they say there’s a fear of ‘hostile terrorist activities.’ Or in other words: anywhere with a critical mass of Arabs. Here’s how to fight back.

By Fady Khoury

Israeli police search a Palestinian man at Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 18, 2015. Police set up checkpoints in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem after recent attacks by Palestinians. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)
Israeli police search a Palestinian man at Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 18, 2015. Police set up checkpoints in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem after recent attacks by Palestinians. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

What does Israel’s new stop-and-frisk law mean? What should you do about it?

Prior to the new law, which was passed in the Knesset on Tuesday, police were authorized to search anyone without a warrant if they had reasonable suspicion (probable cause) that the person was carrying a weapon illegally (on their person or in their car), or was planning to commit a crime with a weapon.

One can question what constitutes reasonable suspicion within that framework, but in short, at least there existed an objective element the officer needed to seek: a weapon. The suspicion that someone is carrying a weapon can’t just be made up, although we know there has always been an element of arbitrariness — after all, we are talking about the Israeli Police.

The “Stop and Frisk Law,” or its official name, the Authorities for Preserving Public Safety Law (Amendment No. 5 and Temporary Provision), 2016, adds to the existing law, and grants police officers the authority to search anyone without a warrant in order to determine whether they are in possession of a weapon, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person is going to commit a violent crime against somebody else.

I can live with that. But a clause attached to the new amendment adds: “For the purposes of this amendment reasonable suspicion shall be, among others, if the person is acting aggressively in a public place, or employs verbal violence or threats, or acts alarmingly or otherwise frighteningly.” In other words: any behavior that might piss off a cop.

And yet that still doesn’t really raise a red flag for me, especially due to the fact that existing laws already grant broad powers to police. What does set off the alarm bells? Clause 6.B, titled “Police powers to conduct a body search of a person in a location thought to be a target for hostile terrorist activities.” The clause authorizes a police district commander to declare any area as one in which there is a real fear that “hostile terrorist activities” will take place, and then police can search people without having to satisfy a requirement of reasonable suspicion. What the law does is it replaces the necessity of reasonable suspicion about an individual with a suspicion about a group in a geographic area. That is tantamount to the authority to declare martial law geographically and temporally, which allows authorities to conduct arbitrary searches for weapons.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of familiarity with Israeli history to reach the conclusion that the powers granted by this new law won’t be limited to matters related to terrorism; it is likely that in any situation where enough Arabs gather to protest a war, policy, or anything else, we will see a police commander exercising the authorities granted by this law. Or, let’s imagine for a moment that a stabbing takes place in East Jerusalem, and suddenly entire neighborhoods are declared areas in which police can conduct arbitrary searches in accordance with the new law. (It should be self evident why that is problematic. I’m not going to even discuss the legitimacy – or lack thereof – of collective punishment.)

The solution

So what should one do? Unless, and until the law is successfully challenged in the Supreme Court, the only course of action is individualistic and should take the form of what I’ll call a “dignity redeeming protest.”

If you live in an area that has been declared, or which you expect might be declared as “an area thought to be a target for “hostile terrorist activities” because some event occurred there, any form of resistance to police officers exercising their new search powers will be futile and likely end with you spending the night in a prison cell.

The most non-violent way (or the least-violent way) I can think of is stink up whoever dares touching you. Be filthy. Really filthy. As filthy and stinky as you can get. That way, anybody who decides to touch you and your personal belongings will be forced to suffer your noxious wrath — a stink tax if you will. Do so until this, too, is outlawed by a law that defines it as obstructing a police officer carrying out his duties.

After all, if there’s one thing that could possibly mitigate the humiliation of being searched in the middle of the street for no legitimate reason, it’s having the knowledge that the person carrying out that search is dying for it to be over even more than you are.

Fady Khoury is a human rights lawyer and a doctoral candidate at Harvard Law School.