Tel Aviv police criticised for clampdown on social protesters
POLICE ARRESTED 85 protesters during a social protest in Tel Aviv after activists broke into a bank and blocked the city’s main highway.
The clashes between the police and the protesters, demonstrating against inequality and the high cost of living, mark the first time Israel’s social protest movement turned violent.
Amnesty International came out in defence of the protesters and condemned what they termed “police brutality”.
Last summer hundreds of thousands of Israelis poured onto the streets in peaceful protests that took the government of Binyamin Netanyahu by surprise and prompted some high-profile social legislation in an attempt to answer at least some of the demonstrators’ grievances.
This summer organisers have found it difficult to regain the protest momentum with only a few thousand hardcore activists returning to the streets.
On Friday the police clamped down heavily on protesters who attempted to pitch tents on Tel Aviv’s upmarket Rothschild Boulevard, in a repetition of last year’s tent protest, which lasted for months.
Daphni Leef, who initiated last year’s tent protest, was arrested along with 11 other activists as the police waded into the protesters, amid claims that they used unnecessary force.
This set the stage for Saturday night’s unprecedented protests in which activists smashed a number of bank windows, occupied one bank branch and blocked Tel Aviv’s main Ayalon freeway.
Local police commander Yoram Ohayon denied the activists’ claim that the police used excessive force, saying the rioters broke the law and left the police with little choice if they wished to maintain public order.
“The problems began when the rioters strayed into the street, started stoning the forces, egging them and then vandalised the banks,” he said.
“The rioters crossed every possible red line. I couldn’t believe this could happen in Israel. We were very close to seeing here the harsh sights we see in violent rallies overseas.”
A statement from Amnesty said the reports of police conduct towards the protesters in Tel Aviv raised “a serious concern that not only were the rights of the protesters not protected, they were violently violated as well”.
On violence carried out by the protesters, Amnesty said: “There is no room to compare this violence to the violence displayed by the police.
“The former is a violation of the law while the latter is a violation of human rights.”