Social protesters allege racism in Tel Aviv arrest

Beduin activist the only person Tel Aviv Police arrested in vigil for self-immolator Moshe Silman.

Police arrest Saber Abu Ilun 390 (photo credit: Michael Omer-Man)
Police arrest Saber Abu Ilun 390
(photo credit: Michael Omer-Man)
Social justice protesters raised allegations of racism against Tel Aviv Police in the arrest of an Israeli-Beduin social activist at a protest Saturday night.
Around 1,000 people took part in the vigil for Moshe Silman, a protester who died on Friday, a week after setting himself on fire at a Tel Aviv rally. Only one activist was arrested, Saber Abu Ilun, originally from Rahat, on suspicion of creating a public disturbance.
Police allowed protesters to march through the city streets undisturbed for almost two hours Saturday night, standing aside as demonstrators blocked intersections and staged candle-light vigils and sit-in protests at various points throughout central Tel Aviv.
When the protesters turned the corner from Begin Road onto Hashalom Road toward the Ayalon Freeway, however, they were met by a line of police vans and officers. A police commander declared the protest illegal and warned that anyone who descended onto the freeway would be arrested.
Approximately 100 protesters ignored the warning and made their way toward the freeway, as they have every weekend for several weeks. As they descended onto the ramp, Abu Ilan was standing in the middle of Hashalom Road. Three undercover police officers rushed toward him, tackled him, and quickly carried him away toward a waiting police van.
None of the protesters who ignored police warnings against marching onto the freeway were arrested.
Late last month, following a protest during which 89 arrests were made, bank windows were broken and both protesters and police accused each other of violence, Channel 10 obtained a police document outlining how to deal with the social movement. Among the instructions signed by Police chief Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino, according to Channel 10, was an order to collect intelligence information on anarchists and criminal elements in the protest movement. The document also ordered the collection of intelligence on all Israeli Arabs involved in the protests.
Several activists, along with Abu Ilun and his lawyer, Barak Cohen, all raised the question of why he was singled out for arrest.
Following Abu Ilun’s arrest, Cohen said: “It is surprising that out of 3,000 protesters Israel Police decided to arrest one protester, who just happens to be a dark-skinned Beduin.”
That type of behavior, he alleged, “is also what lead a man to burn himself a week ago.”
Abu Ilun told The Jerusalem Post he didn’t even approach the Ayalon Freeway after police declared anyone who did would be arrested. “I did not even move one meter.”
"Even if I was to go down to Ayalon, one person cannot block traffic,” he continued. One hundred people were walking in front of him, Abu Ilun said, but police told him, “you are the leader.” Indeed, as the undercover officers approached him, other protesters were already pushing past police lines and making their way to the freeway.
Activist Ilan Etzion alleged that if Abu Ilun was not a black Beduin, police would not have singled him out for arrest.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wouldn’t comment on why Abu Ilun was the only protester arrested as others made their way onto the freeway and blocked traffic.
“He was causing a public disturbance and attempting to block the road,” Rosenfeld told the Post, alleging that he was also calling on others to block roads. Abu Ilun was held in jail overnight and charged with disturbing the peace in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Sunday morning.
The court released him on restrictive conditions, including NIS 1,500 bail and a 180-day ban on attending any illegal protest. In addition, the court ordered Abu Ilun to stay more than 200 meters away from all streets mentioned in the indictment, including Rothschild Boulevard, where he told the Post he resides.
Rosenfeld said he was not familiar with the document ordering surveillance on Israeli-Arab social protesters and declined to comment on whether there was any racial element involved in the decision to arrest Abu Ilun.