Police arrested eighty-nine protesters after more than 6,500 people flooded Tel Aviv’s Habima Square Saturday night to protest the arrest of Daphni Leef, the leader of last summer’s mass protests against inequality and the high cost of housing in Israel.
Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Eksel told Haaretz, “Protesters crossed the line. They set out to clash with the police.”
Police also say the protest was illegal, and that protesters attacked inspectors and police by spitting and throwing objects.
In rhetoric that should sound familiar to any American protester, demonstrator Khen Tsubery told the Jerusalem Post that the lack of a permit was intentional because permits are difficult to obtain.
Ynet News painted a much more violent image of the protest, choosing to focus on vandalization incidents involving shattered windows and protesters charging into banks as part of what the outlet dramatically described as “socioeconomic riots.”
Activists claim one protester, Moshe Menkin, was arrested by an undercover police officer after entering an abandoned building that the police were using as a staging area.
Barak Cohen, who claims he was injured when an officer kneed him, told Haaretz, “We came to create a confrontation, not to stand across from them. You’re fighting for your life and you have to fight them, without fear. They can carry out arrests and close off streets, but they can’t affect the choices we make in our souls.”
This isn’t the first accusation of police violence during the weekend housing protests in Tel Aviv. A 24-year-old woman was videotaped being violently shoved by an officer during the protest after she attempted to reach her boyfriend through a wall of police who she claims were beating him.
Maya Gorkin said she still can’t believe the extent of the police violence at the Tel Aviv rally, even though she was subjected to it herself.
“I’m in shock,” she said. “I admit that I didn’t believe something like this could happen.”
Amnesty International has come out in defence of the protesters and condemned what they call “police brutality.”
“There is no room to compare this violence to the violence displayed by the police. The former is a violation of the law while the latter is a violation of human rights,” Amnesty said in a statement.
The surge in police violence has raised concerns, leading Haaretz to publish an article titled, “Police violence against Tel Aviv protesters should raise the alarm with Israel’s authorities,” in which Or Kashti states that if the housing movement needed “a spark” to get angry Israelis back on the street, the police provided it by arresting demonstrators.
Kashti also takes issue with the official police version of what occurred this weekend:
After the arrests on Friday, police claimed that the 12 protesters arrested “cursed, spat and threw objects at the offices.” Are calls such as “Officer, who are you protecting?” or “Money, power and police” are now forbidden by law? And what does “throwing objects” mean?
Perhaps in one of two cases, in the scorching heat and confrontational air, a protester may have sprayed water at a group of police officers and protesters. But there were other sights—brin[g]ing to mind last summer’s protests—of demonstrators handing police flowers. Perhaps these sights eluded the police’s cameras, alongside other images such as a municipal inspector cheering after penetrating a group of protesters and snatching a tent that they were holding up the air, or two officers dismantling a tent that was placed on the roof of a car.
Stav Shaffir, one of the leaders of last year’s social protest, told Ynet New that, while the protests are certainly about housing rights, they’ve also become something bigger.
“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,” said Shaffir.
“It’s embarrassing to see the State of Israel using violent means and beating up protestors,” she said.