Moving to Canada, far from the Israeli police
March 1, 2004
Moving to Canada, far from the Israeli police
By Yoash Foldesh
"Bryan, get up! Wake up!" Two months ago, three burly policemen not in
uniform entered Bryan Atinsky's bedroom in Rehovot after quickly
brushing past his wife, Efrat, who got up to see who was knocking on the
door at 6:30 A.M. The three said they had a search warrant. "They didn't
waste any time and started opening drawers and searching the shelves,
but they didn't show us any document," says Atinsky, 34.
"When they finished, they said my computer was confiscated and that I
must come with them for questioning. Efrat continuously asked what I was
suspected of, and they said `you tell us.' In the end, I asked if it was
because of the caricature." And indeed, it was because of the
Atinsky is one of the volunteer English editorial coordinators of the
Israeli Web site of the Indymedia network, an international
anti-globalism organization set up after the protests against the
International Monetary Fund as it met in Seattle. Like all the other
branches of Indymedia, the Israeli site, which has been closed for the
meantime, also enabled surfers to post announcements, articles and
creations as they wished, alongside reports written by organization
While the major media outlets are subject to the control of several
stockholders, Indymedia tried to create an alternative medium open to
the public at large. Its agenda also differed from that of the major
media outlets: it included, for example, extensive reports on Israel
Defense Forces operations in the territories and on violence on the part
of settlers, and of course, attempts to expose the seamier side of big
"We don't censor anything," says Atinsky, "but the editors have the
right to erase the link to reports that call directly for violence,
racist reports, clearly false reports or those that have commercial
interests behind them. The reports themselves are not erased from the
servers nor are the responses they elicit, because we believe in
transparency and freedom of information. In most cases, the intelligent
responses expose the cheap provocations."
On December 19, a Brazilian surfer, called Latuf, took advantage of the
site's freedom to post a caricature depicting Ariel Sharon
enthusiastically kissing Adolf Hitler. Following the post, the Police's
Computer Crime Investigation Unit began an inquiry, with the approval of
the attorney general, into the possibility of incitement and insulting a
In the past, the police investigated several posts on the site and
summoned its operators for questioning - among others, after another
caricature posted by Latuf, which depicted Sharon dressed in an SS
uniform - but this time, the responses surprised Atinsky.
Two days after the posting of the caricature and after news of the
inquiry was reported in the media, the Israeli company that provided the
server on which the site is located was swamped with threats from
right-wing activists and complaints from users.
"They told us we had to find a different server," relates Guy West,
another volunteer editor of the site, "and we had no choice but to take
down the site. Within a week it was to be up again."
The next day the police knocked on the door of Atinsky, who is now
editor of the Israeli-Palestinian magazine News From Within, and took
him with them to the Computer Crime Investigation Unit offices in Bat
"In the station, they sat me down outside one of the offices, so I
should wait for my interrogation," he relates.
"In the meantime the policemen who'd brought me in joked between them,
and one of them picked up some sort of metal rod that was lying on the
floor, waved it in front of me and said `this is what we use to hit
suspects because it leaves serious bruises.' For him, it may have been a
joke, but even so it was scary enough. I kept telling them that I wanted
a lawyer, but they said that only in the United States does such a right
exist, and that I could contact a lawyer only after the questioning was
Atinsky was questioned for eight hours and only then did the
interrogators allow him to call a lawyer. "They shouted at me that
everything written on the site was my responsibility because the domain
is registered in my name," he says. "They said that the fact that
surfers can post whatever they want on the site was as if I had left a
pistol on the table and left the room - even if someone else uses it, it
would still be my fault. They kept on shouting and said that we have to
start censoring the site, and that it cannot operate this way. They
don't understand that freedom of expression doesn't refer to nice things
that everyone wants to hear, but actually to the right to say hurtful
things and occasionally also stupid and provocative things."
At the same time, Guy West, 29, of Herzliya, was also summoned for
lengthy questioning. "The policemen asked us for all the IP addresses of
surfers who had entered the site - not of one or two surfers, but all of
them," he relates. "If the owner of the server had cracked and given it
to them, they could have used it to monitor all of the organization's
activists and supporters."
Three months have elapsed since then. For fear of police investigations,
the site has still not resumed operations. Nimrod Keret, another
activist with the organization, arranged not long ago to lease a server
in Canada, and the site will apparently resume operations in another two
to three weeks. West and Atinsky have since been repeatedly summoned for
questioning, and Atinsky's computer has yet to be returned to him. "I've
been weaned from Indymedia," says Atinsky, "the police succeeded in
getting what they wanted."
The police request to censor surfers' responses on the open posting area
of the Indymedia site and its temporary closure, prompts some tough
questions about freedom of expression on the Web. "Questioning has long
been a campaign of pressure and scare tactics and an attempt, without
the jurisdiction to do so, to restrict freedom of expression," wrote
Attorney Avner Pinchuk of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in
a letter to Attorney General Meni Mazuz.
The police investigation, according to Pinchuk, is based on a legal
interpretation that is contrary to views that are accepted in Israel and
around the world. "A committee set up by the Ministry of Justice
determined that Internet service providers are not responsible for the
postings of surfers or site owners," he says. "Even the rulings issued
thus far around the world and in Israel support this view: the
inclination is not to try the owners of the Ynet site, for example,
because of the racist response published in its Talk-back forum."
In the case of Indymedia, says Pinchuk, the investigators could not get
to the Brazilian surfer who posted the caricature and therefore they
chose to investigate the site's operators. "Even if their investigation
doesn't find anything," he says, "the police have in effect determined
facts on the ground.
"Political activists or others who see how Indymedia's operators got in
trouble will not risk providing an open platform to the public.
"The result will be that only large corporations, which can employ
attorneys who will supervise the content posted by surfers, will be able
to run `open' platforms on their sites. The other sites will not be able
to take that risk."
Keret, in the meantime, is working on writing the new code for the site.
"The site was closed because of the problems they made for Brian and
Guy," he says. "The Palestinians engage in this kind of harassment all
the time, and now we have it too. There are fewer and fewer human rights
in this country and rightists suffer from this as well. Beyond that,
what is happening here is absurd: the Brazilian surfer posted his
caricature all over the world, and in the end also posted it on the
Indymedia site in Israel. In other words, had we erased it, the entire
world would have seen it and all the Israelis wouldn't have."
The new site will have two main changes: "First of all, our server will
be in Canada, far out of reach of the police and the address will not
end with `il' but with `org,'" says Keret. "Secondly, the mechanism
enabling surfers to post reports will be different. Surfers will have
three options: contribute information anonymously, and then it will
appear in a more modest format that can be erased if it is problematic;
contribute information in a more prominent location by identifying
oneself and providing an e-mail address; or setting up a kind of home
page where everyone can edit the news himself and decide what will be in
The Israel Police said in response that the police does not comment on
investigations that have not been completed.