Police violence against Tel Aviv protesters should raise the alarm with Israel's authorities
If the prospect of a renewed summer social protest needed a little spark to get angry Israelis back on the street, the police's arrest of 12 demonstrators provided just that.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch should not be allowed to forget these pictures, nor should Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino or Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai (a retired brigadier general): 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 prospect of a renewed summer social protest needed a little spark to get angry, raging Israelis back on the street, the police's special unit officers and Huldai's municipal inspectors generously provided just that; the disproportional use of force against Leef – one woman vs. five-six officers, and later against other protesters – tainted the events on Rotchild. The brutality from above was not only direct, it was public and unabashed.
Such is the price to be paid by the leaders of the social protests, a direct continuation of the police's decision to interview" activists over the past few weeks, in a bid to "better prepare" for potential summer demonstrations. Of the "gentle but firm" cliché the police likes to use, only the latter was left: a firmness not to enable protests – almost any protests (the "almost" refers to certain rallies organized by certain political factions). This is not 'zero tolerance; it is a chilling, frightening minus.
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 – brining 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.
The 300 activists who remained on the boulevard after the arrests decided on a swift response to counter the silencing of their voices: A protest march on Saturday evening, directed not least at mayor Huldai.
There are more protests planned in the near future, but even the movement's leaders know that the events of last year cannot repeat themselves. They don't need to, either, as they will manifest themselves according to today's reality. The protest is still here, because very little – if at all – has changed since last summer.