Israel Police may have been ill-prepared ahead of violent protest, officials say
At least 37 of the 85 protesters arrested on Saturday will be indicted; protesters say police responded with excessive force after they blocked roads, smashed bank windows.
Officials at the Tel Aviv District Police said Sunday that the district may have been inadequately prepared for Saturday's social protest, which turned violent as scores of protesters clashed with police, smashed bank windows, and blocked roads.
Police officers in the district said that the police failed to correctly anticipate the number of protesters that would attend and the violent behavior that would ensue.
The police decided to indict 37 of the 85 protesters arrested in Saturday's demonstration, and 15 of them are due to be brought in to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court for an extension of their remand.
Protesters charged that the police used excessive violence to disperse the demonstration, in which activists blocked major streets and highways, and broke into branches of Hapoalim, Leumi and Discount banks.
Tel Aviv District Commander Aharon Eksel responded to the protest leaders' claims that the police have been withholding demonstration permits. "We as the police will approve every demonstration and protest that is coordinated with us, just as we have last year," Eksel said. "In this case we see that people have set out to clash with the security forces. The protesters crossed the line. We made many arrests and we will try to charge those arrested as soon as possible. We will not allow what happened here to happen again. We will continue to preserve the democratic principle but only in accordance with the law."
Eksel said that the police didn't initiate the violence but responded to violence on the part of the protesters. "There was a group that blocked of the Ayalon Highway and even there we didn't arrest the protesters, but they continued to disrupt the peace. I don't think that Daphni Leef's arrest had any effect on what transpired, those who came, came to clash with the police. All those arrested will be interrogated and brought to court and charged. Our instructions to our police officers are to use measured force, but our police officers were barraged with rocks and stones, were spat on and hit. I don't know of any way to get people off a road against their will without using force."
Stav Shaffir, one of the protest organizers, responded to the police's claims that the protest was illegal because it was held without permit. "They simply aren't giving permits," Shaffir said. "In the last two months we've come to understand what was going on: They are playing with us, blocking our attempts, and makings wait for excessively long periods of time. This has been going on over and over again for many months. They effectively made the protest illegal. We aren't interested in the police – the police are getting its orders from elsewhere. Apparently, someone is giving the orders and the Israeli government decided to make the social justice protest illegal. We were informed that we wouldn't get permits to hold demonstrations, and we were informed, by use of threats, searches, arrests, and extremely harsh violence, which we have already seen in the countries periphery, that they aren't going to let us proceed. The only thing that is legal in the State of Israel according to the state of Israel is that we continue working and working and working and be is quiet as possible."
Talking about the violence on the part of the police, Shaffir said that "the violence was extremely harsh; awful, some protesters had their heads smashed against the pavement. We saw some protesters' faces bleeding. I think that if you examine the arrested protesters' arms you'd see them all covered with bruises."
When asked about violence on the part of the protesters Shaffir said that "I think that these are lies. I'm embarrassed to think that the police are saying protesters used violence against the police. I would much prefer to think the police are trustworthy, but it turns out that they aren't above slandering Israel's best citizens."
During the night, when the police realized that it wouldn't be able to control the large number of protesters that arrived at Habima Square, they decided to allow the protesters to march on some major streets. At first no unusual events took place, but once the protesters arrived at Zeitlin Street, a group of protesters tried to break into a Discount Bank branch. Some protesters vandalized the bank's ATMs, others tried to break in through its windows. The police responded with force to this event sending police officers in, in large numbers, to clear the vandals out.
After that the protesters crossed the street to break into two other bank branches belonging to Leumi Bank and Bank Hapolaim. At this point violence broke out with the police rounding up and arresting protesters in large numbers.
Later during the evening, a group of some 300 protesters walked down to Ayalon Highway, the main route in and out of Tel Aviv, and blocked off the Hashalom intersection. After, the protesters continued to Tel Aviv's City Hall where they continued clashing with the police.
Eksel described Saturday's events from the police's point of view. "Yesterday, the LGBT community held a protest on Rothschild Boulevard. They were joined by a group of persons claiming to be members of the social justice movement. This group began marching down Tel Aviv's main streets, while throwing stones at the police officers," he said.
"We avoided exerting force and allowed the protest to continue even though it was an illegal demonstration. We decided to allow it to go on, intending to let the protesters know that we let them demonstrate," the district commander claimed. "When we arrived at Ibn Gvirol Street, that group, which we call 'the rioters' and not social justice activists began breaking into banks."