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
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
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
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
Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich said evidence was growing
to suggest police used excessive violence in their breaking up of the
Yechimovich said that demonstrators, old and young alike, were
beaten, and actor Tomer Sharon and Leef were arrested for no
“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.
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
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
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.