At Tel Aviv Protests, Anti-government Demonstrators Recount Sudden, Intense Police Brutality

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Police arrest a protester in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2020.
Police arrest a protester in Tel Aviv, October 3, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Thirty-eight young adults were arrested at Tel Aviv demonstrations demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down on Saturday. Most of them had never been inside a police station before, and were hauled in with torn shirts, their bodies scraped and bruised, and desperate to use the bathroom after sitting in locked police vehicles for hours.

All but one were released by Sunday, the majority placed under a five-day house arrest and ordered to stay away from Rabin Square and Habima Square, two central protest sites, for several days. The more experienced protesters among them requested a trial, and, as a result, were released without conditions. The last prisoner was released later Sunday, after three legal proceedings.

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A police statement issued Sunday said that they arrested demonstrators for, among other reasons, “disorderly conduct, blocking roads and incidents of violence.” According to data collected by organizations involved in the protests, 18 of the 38 were arrested at demonstrations in city squares between 7 P.M. and 9 P.M., before protesters began marching through the city.

Roee Yosef, a special education teacher from Tel Aviv, was arrested near Rabin Square on Saturday. He saw a vehicle accelerate toward a protester who was lying on the ground during an arrest. Yosef kicked the vehicle in an effort to frighten the driver and prevent her from hitting the prone protester, but soon learned that the vehicle belonged to an undercover police unit.

“That vehicle floored it, so I figured that either it didn’t see them or that it was an attempt to run them over,” Yosef said. “I kicked the car door and then they started attacking me. I was instantly handcuffed, and I didn’t understand why. In the vehicle I asked about the charges, and they told me, “damaging a police vehicle, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct.”

During the interrogation, Yosef said, “they asked me where I live, why I came to protest, what I planned to do there, how many protesters there were today, why I didn’t leave the square, didn’t I know it was an illegal demonstration? Toward the end of the interrogation I gave my version, that as I saw it I prevented a vehicular attack, no less.” He added, “At the end they told me: ‘If you don’t give a DNA sample, you’ll stay in a holding cell overnight or force will be used.’ I consulted with lawyers and gave [it]. I didn’t want them to use force.”

Footage of the arrest of another protester, Oren Reznik, went viral: Several police officers jumped on him and failed to handcuff him – and not because he resisted. He had come to the aid of activist Yaniv Segal after a plainclothes officer jumped on him suddenly at Habima Square. Reznik and another demonstrator, who gave only his first name, Gideon, saw the incident from afar and went to help. Reznik and Gideon spent the next several hours in a patrol car and then in an interrogation room.

Footage of Reznick's arrest

“I was on the hill with the tree at Habima Square,” Reznik recalled Sunday. “Out of the corner of my eye I saw Yaniv from the Pink Front,” an LGBTQ activist group, “when two people in street clothes came and grabbed him. I ran down with another guy. They weren’t in uniform, we didn’t know who they were. They immediately turned to us and started to beat us, and then out of nowhere three cops jumped on me. I tried to get away from them and get out of there, and then two more arrived. They tore my shorts, and then a cop grabbed me, threw me down on the ground and they took me close to the patrol car,” Reznik said.

“They tried for a long time to handcuff me, a large number of police officers. I tried to explain to them that my hands were extended in a way that they couldn’t cuff me, but because of the confusion more and more cops just kept coming. I was arrested, my wrists were badly restrained and I almost dislocated my shoulder. I was groaning in pain in the patrol car for an hour, they promised me a medic and Magen David Adom. They did not arrive. During the interrogation I exercised my right to remain silent, I got five days under house arrest,” Reznik said. “I’ll appeal it, I don’t know the reason for my arrest. It’s an insult.”

The arrest of Yarden Sheffer, October 3, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yarden Sheffer, who was also arrested at Habima Square, pleaded to use a bathroom for five hours while under arrest, but the officers refused. “From 9:30 P.M. until 2:30 A.M. we were in a holding cell in a police station in Herzliya,” he said. “We explicitly asked, and they said it was impossible. We urinated into a bottle, we had no choice.” Sheffer said he does not know why police officers chose to arrest him. “Their official charge was that I took part in an unlawful demonstration, which proves that they have nothing on me,” he said.

Or Biron, a prominent demonstrator who customarily stands on the front lines and tries to converse with officers, described police conduct Saturday as having been “like a knife in the back.” She explained, “I am well versed in demonstrations in Tel Aviv, I know how they usually are – and I saw how they were this week. It’s a product of incitement.” Biron added, “I’m speaking to the hearts of the police and a horse steps on me. I’ve got a big ‘kiss’ on my leg.” During Thursday night’s demonstrations in Tel Aviv, two protesters were injured by horses, and evacuated to the hospital.

“The purpose of false imprisonment and disproportionate violence is to break us down and make us say we do not want to come ... When we shout at them not to overcrowd us, they box us in.” Biron said that for her, this is the point of no return. “I’m fighting, and I won’t stop until we see results. I feel the house of cards is shifting. They tried to shut us down and got more than a hundred thousand people across the country… I have already been beaten and cursed. The body hurts, but we will continue with all our might.”

On Sunday, the Israel Police issued a statement regarding Saturday night’s events: “By virtue of its role, the Israel Police works to enforce the law, the regulations and restrictions of movement and assembly set forth therein, without exception.

“Freedom of protest within the limits set forth in law by the political echelon in the shadow of one of the greatest health crises that have befallen Israel and against the background of high rates of coronavirus infection, is not freedom to infect and does not allow any demonstrator to violate law and order or harm public health.

“Unfortunately, last night many serious violations were discovered at protest sites, including disorderly conduct, blockading roads and incidents of violence, and therefore fines were issued and arrests made where required, and especially in cases where [the protesters] did not heed, or even confronted, police officers’ instructions and warnings.

“The police will not allow for such callous violations of law and public order at protests and anywhere else, and will continue to act resolutely and impartially wherever and whenever required.”

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