The police got great satisfaction Wednesday when the whole day the media praised their conduct against lawbreakers who came from far afield to help oppose the evacuation of Amona. “Acting with restraint,” “with determination and sensitivity,” “embracing and crying” were just some of the superlatives showered on the cops at the West Bank outpost.
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But anyone who has also witnessed protests in the center of the country in recent years couldn’t help but conclude that in Israel there are two police forces. Or even worse, that Israelis have one police force with an agenda, and on Wednesday it was clearer than ever.
If leaders of the social-justice protests, the Ethiopian protests and certainly the Arab community’s protests were in Amona Wednesday, they also would have been surprised.
Daphni Leef, who was roughed up and arrested for merely trying to revive the social-justice protest, surely remembers the police well. When they called out “the people demand social justice” and “democracy” at a demonstration by 6,000 people that had a police permit, they ended up with 85 people arrested and clashes with the riot police.
In 2015, when young people from the Ethiopian community protested discrimination one night at Rabin Square, it ended with tear gas and stun grenades. Forty-six people were injured and 26 were arrested. Twenty-nine Arab students in Haifa who were arrested for protesting during the 2014 Gaza war also know the police well.
But you don’t have to go back two or three years. Last month at a demonstration of 40 people outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, eight were arrested for “interfering with a policeman and using improper measures,” namely a megaphone.
And last month thousands demonstrated in Arara in the north against the evictions of Negev Bedouin, against home demolitions in Arab towns and villages, and against incitement by the public security minister. They were dispersed by stun grenades and foul-smelling water spray.
So it was hard not to feel uncomfortable in Amona on Wednesday – and not because of the measure of police violence against the rioters. Police brutality during demonstrations is unacceptable and leads to a loss of control on both sides.
The discomfort was because it was clear that in this case the police had received much clearer instructions. As one policeman at the scene said, “‘With determination and sensitivity,’ we were told. ‘Embrace and accept.’”
There’s a video of social activist Maya Gorkin being choked by Cmdr. Yossi Sperling when he headed the Tel Aviv police’s operations branch. “She called me a Nazi enemy,” he said in defense of himself and the police.
On Wednesday the word “Nazi” was used against the police no less than on a routine day in Germany in 1934. But the police chose to “embrace and accept.” The police faced serious violence; stones and unidentified substances were thrown at them, but they had to “embrace and accept.”
The difference could be felt from early in the day. The police came well after dawn without guns and with prominent name tags and blue shirts that made them look like high school students. They were the total opposite of the police who came during the demolition of unregistered Bedouin homes in Umm al-Hiran, or of unregistered homes in the Arab town of Kalansua, where they apparently did a lot less embracing and accepting.
A border policeman at the site Wednesday felt he couldn’t continue with the eviction. He left his comrades in the middle of the operation, saying the assignment was too difficult for him. “The soldier felt uncomfortable so he moved aside; it was hard for him to withstand the situation,” police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot said.
This was said in a tone of understanding, without acknowledging that the worst thing a fighter can do to his comrades is to abandon them in the middle of a mission. But the police decided to embrace and accept; they even went so far as to let the rioters dance with the policeman in question; they praised him as someone who decided to refuse orders.
But at some point the police started to lose the patience they’d been asked to display by the senior officers at the command post.
“We’re trying to repair the damage that happened during the last evacuation at Amona [in 2006], but we’re paying a high price here,” said an officer who was standing outside a house from which demonstrators were being evicted by force.
“There are rioters here we recognize from all the recent confrontations, and we’re being confronted with serious violence and insults, so it has to be a little more aggressive. They have to understand that we’re policemen. The situation here isn’t good.”
Indeed, 24 policeman were hurt, some of whom had to be taken to the hospital. Seventeen people were arrested.