A few hundred people rallying Saturday night at Habima Square in Tel Aviv against the military operation in the Gaza Strip refused to break up even after the police declared the gathering illegal. The crowd dispersed only after the police arrested fourteen protesters, but continued to protest at several other places nearby.
Participants in the protest, which was organized by the Da’am Workers Party, carried signs condemning the continued military action in the Gaza Strip and civilian casualties, as well as condemning Hamas strikes against Israel.
According to the police, which sent a large contingent to the scene, the protest did not have a permit. The police said they broke up the rally also out of concern for the safety of the demonstrators.
Protesters were pushed back by rows of police to a nearby street, but refused to move further and blocked it. After a number of warnings by officers at the scene that the gathering was illegal, the police began making arrests.
Protesters then continued on foot along the central streets of Dizengoff and King George. A police contingent accompanied them, and in coordination with the rally’s organizers, directed them to the Gan Meir park, where the demonstration continued uneventfully.
The right-wing demonstrators usually seen attempting to disrupt rallies against the Gaza operation were hardly present at Saturday's demonstration.
Organizers of a larger rally called Strengthening the IDF and Democracy canceled the event after learning that extremist groups were planning to disrupt it. The rally was to be attended by groups such as the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, the Dror Israel Movement and the right-wing Im Tirtzu.
Leftists have criticized Dror Israel, which is linked to a socialist youth movement, for agreeing to cooperate with Im Tirtzu. The Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism has been criticized for the same reasons.
Planners backed goals such as “freedom of expression is a value that the home front must fight for,” “Hamas is a murderous terror organization that seeks to annihilate Israel” and “the IDF is a moral army.”
“The rally was intended to bring together groups from the right and left, educators and students, to examine ... the possibility of conducting the debate in a democratic and respectful manner,” the organizers said in a statement.
Gilad Kariv, head of the Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said his group was “deeply disappointed by the threatening tone coming from senior members of Meretz” – a left-wing party.
Im Tirtzu said it joined the planned rally “in an attempt to give voice to the sane, Zionist and centrist sentiments of Israeli society. We will not succumb to pressure from the extreme and anti-Zionist left, which is trying to muzzle people while tarnishing the IDF and the State of Israel. The people of Israel must defend democracy against such extremist groups.”
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