Tal Niv - Daniel Bar-On - June 8, 2012
Clash between local residents and demonstrators for refugee rights, Shapira neighborhood, Tel Aviv, April 27, 2012. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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This photograph by Daniel Bar-On portrays a demonstration in the Shapira neighborhood of south Tel Aviv after a night in which Molotov cocktails were thrown at refugees’ residences and at a kindergarten for children of refugees and migrant workers. Fortunately, no one was killed in the attacks, no children were physically injured and a fire that broke out in a bed was extinguished. However, some property belonging to refugees was destroyed. At 1:30 A.M., a few hours before the demonstration pictured in the photograph, investigators from the police identification and forensic science unit arrived at the scene with suitcases containing powder for revealing oily fingerprints, and people congregated around the vans. In the morning, a demonstration developed at the scene. Human rights activists and people involved in aiding the refugees came to protest the attacks and faced off against neighborhood residents.

At first glance, this photograph might seem to have been staged as a scene fraught with symbolism, like a work by Adi Nes. But it is not; it is pure journalism, capturing “the decisive moment.” Two men hold the demonstrator in the black jersey. One of them lifts the red police tape and grasps the man’s throat in a Krav Maga-like hold. The other man, in turquoise pants, holds the demonstrator by the armpit and says something to him. Calming him; maybe explaining to him that it’s not worth getting arrested. The boy in the front wears a gloomy look. In the rear are some onlookers; the sign in the window says “Gila Hair Design.”

The composition and the motion in this photograph catch the societal impotence and the potential for self-destruction inherent in the violent situation, almost a month before the demonstration against refugees in the Hatikva neighborhood ‏(May 23‏) in which windows were smashed, stores looted and people beaten, and in which MK Miri Regev ‏(Likud‏) branded the refugees “a cancer” and accused “the leftists” of preventing their deportation.

The photograph was taken before Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) − who, perhaps more than any other politician in Israel, encourages ignorance, on which his political survival depends − suggested releasing prisoners en masse and replacing them with people who committed no crime and were neither tried nor convicted, but are only refugees or job-seekers. He did note, though, that he was not referring to convicted rapists − his most dramatic and standard inflammatory rhetorical device against non-Jews − even though he has never lifted a finger in support of women’s rights or in defense of victims of sexual assault.

The idea that prisons can be a political means of punishment, facilities that can be emptied out instantly and filled anew in a sweeping, dubious ad hoc process, is appalling. Yishai’s “justice” aims to fan the deepest fears and hatreds of an enfeebled public and incite them against both foreigners and Israelis who think differently and are perceived as representing a strong social class. It’s not by chance that after this demonstration and other similar events, a significant Facebook skirmish broke out between activists for rights of Mizrahim − Jews of North African and Middle Eastern origin − and human rights activists, who were accused of nothing less than racism toward residents of lower income neighborhoods.

The violence against the refugees is paralyzing and destroying even those who want to expel them with violence. The photograph, then, expresses the impasse of internal Israeli relations and the manner in which the economically and socially weak will always find themselves close to the police tape cordoning off such a scene.

And what are the Miri Regevs and the Eli Yishais of Israeli politics doing for these three angry men? Nothing. They are themselves having a field day − but in a minefield, shouting that the left is to blame.