Tel Aviv protesters released; thirty to face assault, public disturbance charges

Tel Aviv protesters released; thirty to face assault, public disturbance charges

Up to a third of the 85 arrested participants face charges after rally against police violence turned violent in what Amnesty International calls a 'trampling' of human rights

Police arrest protesters during a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Police arrest protesters during a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

The state is planning to press charges against 20 to 30 of the 85 people arrested Saturday night during a Tel Aviv rally protesting police brutality.

Some of the detained protesters were to be brought before a judge for remand hearings on Sunday afternoon. All protesters detained were released by late Sunday afternoon.

Police arrested 85 people in the overnight hours between Saturday and Sunday as a protest in support of 12 social activists whom demonstrators claimed were violently arrested Friday, also in Tel Aviv, turned violent itself.

Bank branches were broken into, eggs were thrown and roads were blocked as an estimated 3,000 people massed in central Tel Aviv Saturday night to protest perceived police brutality against demonstrators Friday evening. The protesters claimed that the tactics used by police were unnecessarily heavy-handed and accused the government of attempting to forcefully crush the social justice movement.

Tel Aviv police commander Yoram Ohayon on Sunday denied claims of police violence toward social justice protesters over the weekend. “Police brutality is not a term in our lexicon,” he said.

Responding to activists’ complaints that the authorities had made a clear decision to silence the social justice movement, Ohayon said: “There is no change in policy in dealing with the protest.”

Yonatan Gher, director of Amnesty International Israel, said that “in their eagerness to rid themselves the unpleasantness of the past summer, it seems the Israeli government and Tel Aviv City Hall trampled basic human rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, in addition to trampling the protesters themselves.”

Officials at the Tel Aviv District Police told Haaretz Sunday that the district may have been inadequately prepared for Saturday’s social protest. Officers said that the police failed to correctly anticipate the number of protesters that would attend and the violent behavior that would ensue.

Protesters smashed windows in a branch of Bank Leumi near Rabin Square and in a nearby branch of Bank Hapoalim. Demonstrators also reportedly attempted to break into a branch of Israel Discount Bank and threw eggs at City Hall, adjacent to Rabin Square.

Activists carrying tents also marched through the streets, blocking Ibn Gvirol Street and the Ayalon Highway at different points. Vandals also knocked over garbage cans, according to media reports.

Police commandeered a city bus to transport all the arrested activists.

During the protest, activists waved signs that read, “Do not touch my body, it’s my right to make my voice heard,” “Dear policeman, please do not interrupt the citizen in the line of duty,” and other slogans protesting against the high cost of living.

Shmuel Krauss, one of the people released Sunday afternoon, said that the police were helpless in the face of the rioting protesters and began arresting people randomly.

“There was no organized leadership, people were just going wild, banging on bank and store windows,” said Krauss of the protests. He added that he and others were arrested without proof of wrongdoing, which is why they were released so quickly.

On Friday night, social protest leader Daphni Leef and 11 other activists were arrested in Tel Aviv as they attempted to pitch tents on Rothschild Boulevard.

The 12 arrested Friday night were released from custody several hours later. Leef, who claimed she was physically assaulted by the police as they dragged her to the patrol vehicle, went to the hospital directly after her release and emerged with a bandaged hand, saying it was fractured.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On slammed the police for using what she characterized as excessive force in disrupting the demonstration. “The police have become a tool of political oppression for the government. Such brutality is characteristic of police states, not democracies,” said Gal-On.

Gal-On also condemned the vandalism employed by some of the protesters.

The pitching of tents was a central symbol of last summer’s cost-of-living protests, which saw dozens of tent cities sprout up around the country, including on Rothschild Boulevard, in protest of home prices and other issues.

Though protest leaders have called for the demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands last year, to start up again, they have largely failed to gather steam this year.

Some of the leaders of last year’s protest condemned the violence employed by the protesters.

“There is no justification for the horror show we saw last night. It is not a direct continuation of last year’s protest and only served to delegitimize it,” said national student union chairman Itzik Shmuli. “The battle is just, its goals are right, but the use of violence is wrong.”

Shmuli said that the students would not participate in violent demonstrations.

Itzik Elrov, who spearheaded the consumer rights movement last year, said the social justice movement would reject anarchists and violent radicals.

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