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Photo by: Courtesy Michal Grossberg
TA protest: Police arrest social justice leader Leef
By BEN HARTMAN AND GIL HOFFMAN
22/06/2012
One of key figures of social justice movement arrested along with 11 others; Yechimovich, Horowitz decry police violence.
 
Police arrested social justice movement leader Daphni Leef and 11 others during a rally on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv Friday that included some of the most heated confrontations between police and protesters since the movement began last summer.

All 12 demonstrators were released on Friday night after several hours in custody, and police said they would hand over the investigation to the prosecutor’s office.



On Saturday evening, Leef said she was still suffering from an injury to her left hand and bruises on her body.

The protest began Friday midday with demonstrators arriving at Habimah Square following a call by Leef earlier in the week for people to come there with tents, to kick-start the movement at the spot where it began last July 14.

The city had not given anyone permission to hold the demonstration or to set up tents in the square. Seeking a loophole of sorts, the protesters held the half a dozen or so tents at the square in the air by the corners, so as not to violate the prohibition on setting up tents. Around 2 p.m., city inspectors began attempting to forcibly remove the tents, at which time shoving matches broke out between the municipal employees and protesters, who said they had no right to confiscate their property.

A back and forth ensued, with inspectors and protesters engaged in a series of angry tugs-of-wars in the sweltering heat, with Special Patrol Unit riot police occasionally moving in to push back or arrest demonstrators.

At some point, Leef was arrested and dragged into a police van parked next to the square as the crowd chanted “Democracy!” Police said Leef was arrested for striking officers; videos posted online show her lying on her back on the concrete as several police hold her down before dragging her to the van.

Crowds quickly surrounded the van and began chanting “Free Daphni, free Daphni,” blocking off traffic on Rothschild Boulevard in both directions. Protesters vowed to remain in place until Leef was released, but about an hour and a half later Special Patrol Unit officers cleared the path ahead of the van and police made their way with Leef to Yarkon District police headquarters.

Holding the corner of a tent in front of the van, Nadav Lazar, 32, from Tel Aviv, said the demonstrators came to Rothschild “to show the citizens that they are the true owners of the country. The police can’t stop us from gathering in public places and can’t tell us where we can and cannot protest.”

Leef’s arrest and the other actions of the police made what was shaping up to be an otherwise not very noteworthy protest, one that received heavy coverage in the media.

It may have also repositioned Leef as the leader of the protest movement, following a schism between her and fellow leader Stav Shafir, who has been much more prominent in the movement lately.

The tougher-than-usual police reaction follows a decision by police earlier this month to contact several protest leaders at their homes and ask them to come in for questioning about this summer’s upcoming demonstrations.

Yarkon District police chief Cmdr. Yoram Ohayon said on Friday that the protesters were arrested for assaulting police officers and disturbing the peace, adding that the aggression shown by activists “included serious provocation, unlike the protests last year.”

Ohayon said the provocation included blocking streets and attacking police and city clerks, and that “we believe that in a democracy you must allow protests and we will continue to do so as long as they are lawful.”

Ohayon denied that police struck protesters or used excessive force to clear the path ahead of the van.

Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich said evidence was growing to suggest police used excessive violence in their breaking up of the protest.

Yechimovich said that demonstrators, old and young alike, were beaten, and actor Tomer Sharon and Leef were arrested for no reason.

“Despite the fact that Public Security Minister [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch told me clearly in the Knesset that there was no order from on high to take harsh steps against the movement’s protesters, it turns out that the government and its operational branches have decided not to enable the existence of democratic protests this summer,” Yechimovich said.

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz called the arrests of social justice activists on Friday “brutal” and proof that “the government is afraid and doing all in its power to block the renewal of the protest movement.”

He added: “The activists returned to the streets because nothing they were promised last summer was delivered, the situation only worsened.”

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On on Saturday slammed the police’s treatment of the social justice protesters.

“The Israel Police is behaving as it would in a police state, rather than a democratic state,” she said. “It has become a political, repressive instrument of the government, against all groups that protest against it.

We saw on Rothschild Boulevard how the police are serving the government rather than the law.”

On Saturday, protesters announced plans to hold a demonstration against police violence at 10 p.m. on Saturday night at the site of Friday’s protest.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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