Police arrested 89 demonstrators after more than 6,500 people converged in and around Tel Aviv's Habima Square on Saturday night, protesting the arrest on Friday of Daphni Leef, a leader of last summer's social protest movement.
The protesters blocked Ibn Gabirol Street north to Rabin Square, before moving and blocking Ayalon highway. Around 20 demonstrators were removed by police after breaking into branches of Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount banks.
Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Eksel said Sunday that, "Protesters crossed the line. They set out to clash with the police."
A large police contingent was stationed in the city center starting Friday afternoon. The police had expected Saturday's demonstration, which they say is illegal and unlicensed. Other banks were targeted and a window at Bank Hapoalim at Gan Ha'ir was shattered.
Under the slogan "Emergency protest! Returning power to the people," demonstrators confronted the police, some of them from the elite Special Forces unit.
Activists said one of their number, Moshe Menkin, was arrested by an undercover police officer when he entered an abandoned building on Rothschild Boulevard that the police were using as a staging area.
Another demonstrator, Barak Cohen, said he was injured when a police officer kneed him.
"We came to create a confrontation, not to stand across from them," Cohen said. "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."
According to Sunny Arazi, another demonstrator, "Yesterday the police did everything to stop the protest, and it worked. The south is on fire, and if this demonstration succeeds, the firing in the south will continue. They'll do everything possible to disrupt the protest."
Earlier on Saturday evening, several hundred people gathered on Rothschild Boulevard near the Barnoar club for gay teens, where two people died in a shooting attack three years ago. A number of MKs met with the demonstrators, who included Ayala Katz, whose son Nir was killed in the attack.
Social protesters in Tel Aviv, June, 24, 2012
On Friday, Leef and a dozen other protesters were arrested after several hundred activists tried to put up tents along Rothschild, the main site of last summer's social protest. Leef was dragged into a waiting police car, prompting hundreds of demonstrators to block the road with their bodies in an attempt to prevent the car from driving off.
The protesters knocked over trash cans and shouted chants criticizing Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Still, the car managed to leave the scene.
The police said Friday's protest was illegal, and that the demonstrators refused the requests of municipal inspectors to halt it. Protesters attacked the inspectors and the police at the site, the police said. Protesters cursed, spat and threw things at the officers, the police said.
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