The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Israel is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Israel is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is no regional human rights treaty to which Israel can adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Israel does not a formal constitution and its basic law does not explicitly protect the right of peaceful assembly.
Although there is no constitutional guarantee of the right of peaceful assembly, it has been upheld by the judiciary as a "fundamental right". The 1971 Police Ordinance and the 1977 Penal Law regulate the right to peaceful assembly. Prior authorisation is required to hold a demonstration or gathering involving more than 50 and where speeches or a march will be held in open air. But the police are required to have concrete evidence of active planning for violence before they can ban an event as a threat to public order.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Israeli police must use only reasonable force in the performance of their duties.Order 18 of Police Ordinance (New Version), 5731-1971.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Use of firearms by the Israeli police is governed by Police Order No. 06.02.14. The Order states that the use of firearms will be "as a last resort, with due caution, and only in circumstances where there is a logical relationship between the degree of danger arising from the use of the weapon and the result which they wish to prevent". The use of firearms to effect an arrest is prohibited unless it pertains to a crime involving serious endangerment to the life or integrity of a person and there is no other way to carry out the arrest.
Firing live ammunition in the air with a view to dispersing rioters is only lawful if authorised by a senior police officer.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In 2016, in its Concluding Observations on Israel the Committee against Torture expressed its concern at allegations of excessive use of force, including lethal force, by security forces, mostly against Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the access-restricted areas of the Gaza Strip, "particularly in the context of demonstrations".
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Israel, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly in any detail though it expressed its concern at "persistent reports of excessive use of lethal force" by Israel’s security forces, "in particular the Israel Defense Forces, during law enforcement operations against Palestinian civilians, including children, particularly in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Access Restricted Areas of Gaza."
In March 2019, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry mandated to investigate the demonstrations that began on 30 March 2018 at the separation fence between Gaza and Israel rendered its report. The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that during these weekly demonstrations, the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2021 report on Israel:
Protests and demonstrations are widely permitted and typically peaceful. However, some protest activities—such as desecration of the flag of Israel or a friendly country—can draw serious criminal penalties, and police have sometimes attempted to restrict peaceful demonstrations. Antigovernment protest activity continued throughout 2020 despite varying pandemic-related rules on social distancing. For several weeks, the authorities prohibited individuals from participating in protests more than a kilometer from their homes.