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Israeli father taken at gunpoint by swat team in his own home

Marianne Azizi photo
Marianne AziziIsrael
Israeli father taken at gunpoint by swat team in his own home
When the IDF hero became the enemy of the State, accused of publishing excessively against social workers,judges and police

In the ongoing series of articles here on Byline -  following Ariel Formanovski, father of Avraham (3) and staunch human rights defender, events took a dramatic turn last week.

After the wave of arrests of 8 people wanted for allegedly naming and shaming public officials who violate civil and human rights, Ariel was still a free man.  Undeterred, and knowing his test case for the UN on judicial violations of procedures was even more vital, Ariel went to the courts in Jerusalem, and won the right to submit his evidence showing his innocence and his imprisonment was illegal in July 2016.

Later that night, he heard shouting and banging at his door.  It woke him instantly, and he went to the door and asked who it was.

The men would not identify themselves.  In a fleeting moment, Ariel thought the death threat he had received from the prosecution lawyer in the court was to come true.  He had just over 120 seconds to try and secure his technical equipment, and then went to his balcony to try to escape - certain someone had come to kill him.  Standing there was a soldier, barely past 18, acne marking his face - pointing an M16 at Ariel.

He has been tasered before, locked in a cell, then prison, been spat on his face by teenage soldiers under instruction, but nothing prepared him for this moment.

A gun pointing at him - a former IDF hero with medals of bravery - looking at a boy who now pointed the weapon at him, as if he himself had become a terrorist.  The final betrayal cut through his heart.

He believed he was going to die in his apartment, so turned and moved to open his front door.  The 2 plain clothed men from the Magav - a special force - didn't wait, and pushed the door into Ariels face; blood splattering from his nose. 

He was cornered by 3 men.  Still no announcement of who they were.  A fourth man entered, who was a police officer.  He was told this was a planned arrest.  Two men tried to handcuff his hands and legs.  Ariel - being a large man, also has huge hands, and the handcuffs cut into his wrists, breaking more blood. 

The men ransacked his home - ripping boxes apart, and throwing everything around in their search.  They had an arrest and search warrant.  Finally they had him in chains and took him away.  He recalls at least 2 or 3 police cars full of cops.

He said "You could have just declared yourselves and invited me for questioning - you really needed an assault team?"

He was questioned if he was publishing.  Deciding there was nothing more to lose, he told them, "yes - of course we all are. Thousands of us.  There is nothing you can do about it"  They switched interrogators every 30 minutes. He said he couldn't believe how dozens of special forces and public money was used to perform this arrest for someone pressing 'share' on a computer.

He had no more holding back left in him.  He told them and the judge - "you have taken everything from us, all parents, and our children.  You are child traders, and you cannot stop the message anymore.  He added a lot of swearing and cursing.

He was put into isolation.  A soundproofed room 3mx3m.  No windows; nothing inside it whatsoever.  He was given someone to share his cell - also handcuffed, who was planted by the police to extract a confession.  It took Ariel only a few minutes to know, as most know this technique.  The 'con' with him was taken out for food, water, and walks and then was gone.

Ariel was held alone.  He got 2 x 180cl plastic cups of water each day.  The toilet was a hole in the floor - no toilet paper  He had to pee and shit standing up.  If he asked for it - they told him 'not now, not now'.  He got 3 meals, small per day.  No shower, and was in chains for 4 whole days.  He described it as very difficult.  It was freezing cold at night - he said.  Without my army training, it might have broken me.  Nowhere to lie down and the cuffs hurting as they were too tight.  I handled it - as I've been trained, but locked up by 'my own'?  This was the betrayal.

He saw there was a camera in the cell, and a microphone - high up on the wall.  He broke both.  He commented - "they knew I was not afraid." I was prepared to do life in the cell."

This was his existence for 4 days.  He relates how a kind Druze officer finally took him for a shower, gave him soap and a towel, though he only had his filthy clothes to put back on, and the disgusting smell of the room still permeated his skin.

He was questioned in Abu Kabir (a prison near Holon) for 4 hours without a break- as they screamed at him, trying to force a confession.  They played him recordings - telling him his 'friends' were betraying him.  He knew the recordings were forged.  He heard one with journalist Lory Shem Tov, claiming he was the ringleader, then heard at the end her crying 'you liars, you liars'. 

He was then read the charges - sexual harrassment, disturbing the order of public services of the State, destroying evidence, disrupting judicial procedures (at this he laughed out loud, given his persecution by the courts for 9 months),  being a risk to the public of Israel - all of these as severe crimes.  Two felonies, threats to the public offices, and disturbing public officials.

He was then shown complaints and testimonies made against him - his experience told him this would not happen.  He refused to acknowledge anything.

Their final effort was to put him in an interrogation room with journalist Lory Shem Tov - with the aim of a confrontation.  To ensure they would betray each other, or fight each other and give information.

Ariel says "It was clear that Lory had been weakened, though strong.  She is a woman, blogger, advisor and I couldn't believe they could do this to a woman who had suffered enough herself.  I told them nothing would break us, as there was nothing to tell - that if crimes were to tell the truth, then we would all, every citizen outside prison too, continue to tell.  Nothing would stop us.  We are parents, we are human beings.  Try and destroy us, but you will pay a high price."

On 8th March, Ariel was freed from prison and placed under house arrest.  He cannot use the internet for 30 days, and has not yet been charged with any crimes. 

A further hearing is due on 16th March.  There are further detentions for at least 3 of those arrested, and one particular father - whereabouts still unknown since his arrest.  The social media network doesn't know about him.

On Friday 10th March, two national tv channels will air articles - with press being fed stories that this is the capture of the century - cyber terrorism at its worst.

Accusations of websites in Panama and Australia were met with confusion.  Not one of the people in prison have work, or wealth.  They are financially broken by the judicial corruption.  Most haven't got the mental capacity to imagine a criminal worldwide network, least of all actually make one.

The authorities may feel they are cleaning up dissent - and many people are now afraid.  But the message is out of the bottle - and in reality arrests will have to be in the thousands and thousands.

International organisations have been notified, and are listening at last.  The sacrifices of those incarcerated and the reasons for it - the authorities may have made a huge mistake.

The reality check.  He and his colleagues - used to live normally, nothing extreme, until the system happened to them.  It could be divorce, removing a child, banking or tax frauds; corruption of judiciary, false arrests by police; or protesting against government corruption itself.  It is a moment of change, when a formerly loyal israeli recognises who the enemy really is.  It's written thousands of times a day - who is my enemy?  Who is taking my soul?

Once this father was a computer 'geek', now he's an alleged cyber terrorist, with spurious charges added to men and women by the day.

It could happen to anyone.  In Israel.

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