Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trouble in Tel Aviv

HOW many cops does it take to change a peaceful demonstration into a "riot", by brutally arresting leaders?

Daphne Leef being taken away in Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard

IT seemed to start quietly enough. A few hundred people returned to the spot on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard where Daphne Leef set up a tent last year to protest about housing problems and prices, starting a movement that sprouted across the country.

Some brought tents again. Some had handmade placards. A few even tried handing flowers to policemen. That mood did not kast long. The police saw to that.

They went for people seen as leaders of the J14 social justice movement, Here's how one eye witness saw it.

"Five police special unit officers – maybe six – drag protest leader Daphne Leef out of a group of demonstrators on Rothschild Blvd. in Tel Aviv and onto the opposite sidewalk.

"Leef, in a blue shirt, is thrown to the ground. A few meters away, municipal inspectors and Huldai's "Green Patrol" help the police push back the protesters. Every few minutes Leef tries to raise her hands and protect herself from the shoves and kicks, to no avail.

"In the background, the crowd repeatedly shouts one word: Democracy. This horrific sight lasted for many minutes, until Leef was forcefully taken to a nearby police vehicle. No one should ever ignore or repress these pictures".

If the police or whoever gave the orders to get tough thought this would scare away protesters, they were in for a shock. Last night people were out on the street in their thousands, and this time the mood was different.

The night started with a rally against police violence, as some 2,000 protestors gathered in Tel Aviv's Habima Square a day after 12 activists were detained by police during a social protest.

The demonstrators claimed police used uncalled for violence during Friday's rally, holding up signs reading "Don't touch my body, I have a right to speak up" and "Dear police officer, please don’t disrupt this citizen in performing his duty."

Soon after, violent clashes erupted at various locations across Tel Aviv, including at banks near the city's Rabin Square. Protestors shattered windows at some banks, in one case making their way into the bank with a tent, the symbol of last year's housing protest, and barricading themselves inside.

Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of last year's social protest, told Ynet that "while we're struggling for what we've been fighting for throughout the year, we realized there's another struggle, a great one, for democracy."

"It's embarrassing to see the State of Israel using violent means and beating up protestors," she said. (my emphasis),7340,L-4246274,00.html

That last comment may sound ironic, even amusing, against the news we are more used to, of Israeli troops and police regularly using violence against Palestinians. Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai is a retired Brigadier General.

Some people have also been saying that "in the scale of things" the beating up of a few demonstrators in Tel Aviv does not amount to much. Last week a dozen or so people were killed in Gaza by Israeli forces, possibly using rockets fired in the south again as pretext, and one of those killed was a two-year old toddler. A four year old boy was killed by a tank at Khan Yunis. A Bedouin village in southern Israel has just been demolished for the third time.

But this kind of objection really misses the point. It is not about competing for sympathy. In terms of who has suffered most there can be no competition. But in order to maintain itself as an occupier Israel needs more than brigadier generals, and gun-toting settlers from Brooklyn who if push comes to shove can go home. It needs ordinary Israelis ready to serve the state, and thinking the state looks after them. And this weekend that assumption was looking thin because they were fighting the police in Tel Aviv.

One swallow does not make a spring, and other things are happening, but ...

Anyway, here is Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka who comes from Um el Fahm, and is active in the Workers Advice Centre-Maan and the Workers Party DAM, which takes its red banner on the social protests and says there can be no social justice with national oppression, giving her compliment to a sister under the skin:

"Daphni was walking in the midst of the raging, supportive crowd that loved her, with a broken rib in her chest, a sprained hand, a huge smile and tears in her eyes. How can you not fall in love with her?! The unauthorised protest in Tel Aviv today was the happiest, the most real, and there were sparks of revolution in people's eyes. The people has spoken, it wants to protest, it has the fire, and it has a leader. If you want to sharpen up and focus certain messages, come out into the street and watch them focus as you march. Among the few placards raised in Tel Aviv tonight was a mock road sign, pointing direction to Tahrir Square, Deraa and Homs in "Free Syria." This means that this is a protest that know where it lives. And it certainly means that it's alive."

It is reported that at least 85 people were arrested on Saturday night, and police wanted thirteen of them denied bail. And someone says police horses are out on the streets against demonstrators in Jerusalem.

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