'Who is the criminal here?'
A Tel Aviv demonstration last weekend, meant to protest the violent arrest of Daphni Leef, itself turned ugly with those involved claiming police brutality. Five arrested demonstrators tell their stories.
The words of five men and women who allege that the police treated them violently at the protest in Tel Aviv last Saturday night paint a harsh picture. It appears that the police violence was totally random, and that the mass arrests were, for the most part, of people who were trying to document or criticize the violence, but had no connection to any illegal act by other demonstrators. The testimonies also show that even after protestors were in custody, the police continued to harass them. The name of Yarkon Police District commander Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon comes up in a number of the testimonies, detailed below.
Ya'ara Marciano, 32, a researcher for the investigative television program 'Uvda' (Fact )
"We sensed the violence even as we were marching down Ibn Gabirol Street, mainly in the pushing by policemen, but we tried to obey orders. At one point, around midnight, after they [demonstrators] broke into the banks, I was standing with my boyfriend on a traffic island opposite Gan Ha'ir [shopping center adjacent to Rabin Square]. A person arrived there, whom I now know is Yoram Ohayon. He started shouting at us to move back. We were on a traffic island, so he shoved us.
"When my boyfriend said to him: 'What are you shoving for?,' he got annoyed at him and called to policemen to arrest him. Then they started dragging him along the street. I got very upset and shouted: 'Leave him alone.' He [Ohayon] got annoyed, he shoved me and he told the policemen to arrest me as well. They arrested me and started dragging me down the street by my arms. I still have purple and yellow bruises on my arms. I told them they were really hurting me and they didn't need to, but the policemen didn't agree to let go.
"They literally pulled me through the air. They took us into a room in Bank Leumi and put us there. There was a fellow there named Omri whom they'd really beaten up and dragged [along] while hitting him. I tried to film him with my cell phone. Someone not wearing a uniform came in and took my phone away as I was filming. I said I was a journalist and that he couldn't confiscate my phone. Only later did they return it to me.
"From there they took us by bus to Glilot [police station]. The thing that shocked me most was the method they used to 'break' us. In the morning they decided to take us outside to stand in the sun. We stood in the sun for six hours after being interrogated. My boyfriend and I are not anarchists. We are just ordinary people who go to demonstrations and we care.
"It was hard seeing the reactions in the media, especially the one about how the illegitimate violence came from the demonstrators' side. How can people like me, the most ordinary people, be arrested without the right to call our parents? And [then] they transform this into violence on our part?
"The discourse is so detached from the reality. They accused me of the whole package: harming a policeman [and] public property, disorderly conduct and [taking part in] an illegal demonstration. My boyfriend still has marks on his neck. That's where they aim. This has made me understand that we have to go back to the streets. The police were not operating alone. They were operating because of an order that is necessarily political - someone directed them. They didn't just happen to send special ops police who don't know anything other than how to beat people up."
Tal Levi, 35, musician
"I'd been performing with Avi Toledano at the Performing Arts Center and I got to Rabin Square only at 12:30. I stood on the sidewalk taking pictures. I was in shock at what was happening. There have never been demonstrations like that. Then they took me. They claim I assaulted a policeman. They said I poured water on them. That I threw bottles. None of that happened. They treated me like a criminal. I am a law-abiding person, I pay taxes, I do reserve service. They bent my hands so hard that they still hurt. My hands are my tools, it's my profession [Levi is a bass player]. All along the way I shouted at the policemen: 'I am not resisting. Don't bend them - please, my hands are my work!' I am looking for a video taken by any people who filmed this.
"They [the police] behaved like animals. Everything they say happened didn't happen. If I had done anything, so okay, I stand behind the things I do. But I didn't do anything except take pictures.
"The police need to look at themselves. I have nothing against policemen, but when they bend my hand in such a way that it still hurts to sleep four days later, I ask who's obeying the law and who is the criminal? I maintain my right, in the coming demonstrations as well, to stand on the sidewalk and film police who hit concerned people. I will continue to believe in goodness and love."
Shiri Perciger Cohen, head of digital for a PR firm
"My brother, his girlfriend and I were standing near Gan Ha'ir, very close to the place where the police had set up an improvised holding tank. We stood there shouting against the police and in favor of freedom of expression. We are not violent in any way. We didn't block streets and we didn't smash windows. At a certain point I realized that Brig. Gen. Ohayon was gesturing [toward] my brother with his hand, and then the policemen set upon him. I tried to help him and then they set upon me, breaking my glasses and pulling my hair. They pushed my brother onto me and his girlfriend. When he tried to get up, they gave him a kick in the face and dragged him off to detention.
I've obtained a picture testifying to the violence, thanks to the dress I was wearing. I had got the dress on Thursday and had uploaded a picture to Instagram. That's how they [witnesses ] identified me when the pictures of the demonstration came out.
"It's ironic to think that I was one of the leaders of the Trajtenberg committee's social media team last summer [the committee was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to propose solutions to Israel's socioeconomic problems]. Lots of people in the protest didn't like that - they thought I was a collaborator with Bibi [Netanyahu]. In my opinion Trajtenberg was a worthy effort and if had it been implemented, we would be in an entirely different place. [Prof. Manuel] Trajtenberg knows what happened to me. He is abroad and his wife texted me support in an SMS. I have had support from every direction.
"There was someone who wrote online that 'It's clear you staged a provocation, you can see that your brother is kicking a policeman in the part you have concealed [some of the picture is covered by another picture].' It's all lies and total nonsense. I will come to the next demonstrations, even though they have tried to frighten normal members of the public so they won't come. As many people as possible have to come to the next demonstrations, otherwise the protest will fizzle out and the demonstrators will be a handful of weirdos who have no influence."
Ido Bercovier, 28, student at Shenkar School of Engineering and Design, Ramat Gan
"It started with the people who went into the Bank Leumi branch. The police went in and started beating them up. I came to the area to look. When things calmed down, I saw Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon starting to shove a woman. Opposite him stood a guy with his arms crossed who wasn't moving. I was also standing there with my arms crossed, next to him. The moment Ohayon gave the signal, two special ops cops grabbed us and arrested us. I did not resist. While I was being dragged, they were hitting us with their fists and then they put us inside the bank in a space that had become a holding tank. We were 20 people in a closed space of 4 by 4 meters. It was hot and people couldn't move. One woman fainted. It took 15 minutes to get her out. And then they transferred us to Glilot [police station].
"At Glilot there were people around me who had really been hurt. One woman had been choked. There was a man of 60 with a bleeding head who told us they had beaten him and dragged him. There was a boy of 17 who had a matriculation exam the next day, but nevertheless they didn't release him until 11:00 A.M. There was also a woman with diabetes. We were in a room for four hours without water. And then they took us outside to a small area.
"We had to stand in the sun from 7:00 A.M. until 1:00 P.M., and we got food only at 10 o'clock. It was three hours before they brought water. There was someone with an injured eye who hadn't seen any doctor. An older man had a cracked rib that was very painful. I apparently got off lightly. I was charged with assaulting a policeman, causing damage to property and participation in an illegal demonstration. People are horrified but I am used to it at basketball games where the police beat people up, and from left-wing demonstrations. I am from Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is an even more violent city. I would complain but there are people who have real evidence, and I don't have anyone who took pictures."
Reut Ifat, 31, owner of a public relations firm
"I was on Ibn Gabirol when they [demonstrators] broke the window at the bank. A group of people was running toward Bank Leumi. I went to see what was happening there and I went in. Within one minute the police had surrounded the place. I wanted to leave but they didn't let me. I took out a business card and said again that I wanted to leave. They didn't agree to let me go before an officer came. And then a policewoman came and pushed me into a paddy wagon. Inside they handcuffed me. I asked them to release me and to tell me what they were arresting me for. I told them I have diabetes and I didn't have medications with me. They took me to Glilot and they held me there in handcuffs until the interrogation. I didn't try to misbehave, but they said those were the procedures.
"We were without food and water and medications for 10 hours. I kept asking for my medications. One of the investigators told me she had medications in her purse, because she also has diabetes, but said she wouldn't give me any.
"The police said to me, 'If you want to, you can faint. It'll cost you NIS 1,000, the price of treatment at Magen David Adom [first aid clinic].' They didn't let me call my father or a lawyer. My blood sugar dropped, I was vomiting and was only released at 8:00 A.M. At first they wanted to take me in handcuffs to a hospital. Two doctors have told me it was very serious, that I could have died from it. Since then I am still under very close medical supervision."
A police spokeswoman told Haaretz the following in response: "Police policy is to enable every group to express its protest on condition that it is done in accordance with the law. That is how we acted last year and that is how we will continue to act. On Saturday there was an illegal demonstration that had not received police permits. Nevertheless, the police allowed the demonstrators to march on Tel Aviv streets and block them. During their march the demonstrators committed acts of serious vandalism that were not caused by the encounter with the police, but rather as part of a prior decision to raise the level of friction and violence. The demonstrators attacked policemen, cursed and spit, overturned garbage receptacles in the street and interfered with Tel Aviv residents' way of life for several hours.
"At a certain stage it was decided to declare the demonstration illegal, with instructions issued to all demonstrators to disperse. The demonstrators did not abide by the police instructions and carried on with their demonstration. Therefore, the police began to make arrests. Because of the resistance to arrest on the part of some of the demonstrators, the police had to use reasonable force. By the end of the demonstration, 85 of the activists were arrested and indictments have already been filed against 20 of them. The investigations are continuing. As for the complaints by the activists, their cases will be examined and conclusions will be drawn."