Protest leader blames gov't for protester violence

Stav Shaffir accuses gov't of trying to discredit protest movement; police arrest 85 protesters in TA for breaking bank windows.

Social protesters block Ayalon 390 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Social protesters block Ayalon 390
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Protest leader Stav Shaffir on Sunday denounced protester violence in Tel Aviv the night before, but accused the government of trying to delegitimize the social protest movement.
"We are opposed to all expression of violence and destruction of property," Shaffir said in a statement. "The government, and its leader, are trying to delegitimize the largest social protest in Israel's history."
Saying that the government wants to silence criticism, Shaffir added, "The events of last night prove that the public does not buy these lies and it is determined to struggle toward the future of Israeli society, and the right to organize in the public sphere."
In what was the most violent encounter between social justice protesters and police since the protest movement began last summer, over two thousand protesters clashed with police in central Tel Aviv Saturday night, against what they said was police brutality at a protest the day before.
Yarkon police sub-district commander Yoram Ohayon on Sunday denied reports that police used excessive violence in dealing with protesters. "Police brutality is not a term in our lexicon," he said. Responding to activists' complaints that the authorizes have decided to silence the movement, Ohayon says: "There is no change in policy in dealing with the protest."
A second bank window, smashed.A second bank window, smashed.
Protesters broke windows at three different bank branches in central Tel Aviv and managed to block off the Ayalon Freeway for around a half hour during the mayhem. Shafir joined a group of several other protesters who rushed inside the ATM lobby of the Bank Hapoalim on Ibn Gvirol and began banging on the glass. Shafir and the rest left moments before someone smashed the window from the outside.
Tel Aviv police spokesman Moshe Katz said Sunday that demonstrators ignored police calls to disperse the marches and continued to block the roads and confront police officers. By the end of the night police announced the arrests of 85 protesters, including over 30 who were seen being driven away from the City Hall in a Dan bus that had been commandeered by police. On Sunday afternoon, 15 suspects were to be brought before a court for a remand hearing.
Most of the arrests took place outside the city hall and the Bank Leumi branch at Gan Hair Mall next door, where protestors had rushed inside with a tent and smashed two outside windows. Moments earlier protesters broke the front window of a Bank Hapoalim branch a few meters away, and on the way to the Ayalon two men threw paving stones at a Bank Hapoalim branch of Arlozorov, breaking a window. Protesters also rushed into a Discount Bank branch on Ibn Gvirol, but did not make any lasting damage, mainly just throwing paper in the air and making a mess before they were cleared out.
Smashed bank window in Rabin Square.Smashed bank window in Rabin Square.
Despite the large number of arrests, at many times during the night police appeared to hold back, most glaringly during the short-lived blocking of the Ayalon. Police made no arrests of protestors blocking the highway, rather, they allowed them to stop traffic and then march on the Ayalon from Arlozorov train station to the Hashalom exit next to Arieli mall. Among the hundreds of people marching were only a few Special Patrol Officers walking along the concrete divider in a single file line. Speaking at a short press briefing held late Saturday night outside the shattered front window of a Bank Hapoalim branch, Tel Aviv District Police Commander Major General Aharon Aksol said that protestors had thrown rocks and spit at police and in general used violence throughout the demonstrations.
Aksol said the demonstrators “crossed all possible red lines” adding that police “carried out more than a few arrests tonight and we will work to see that indictments are brought against all of those arrested as soon as possible.”
He said when the march, which began at Habima, reached Ibn Gvirol, “That group of violent thugs who are not from the ‘social justice’ crowd breaking into banks. This group does not really represent social justice.”
Protesters in Rabin Square.Protesters in Rabin Square.
Aksol said that throughout the night police made the decision to step back and allow protestors to block streets, including the Ayalon Freeway, avoiding a confrontation while allowing the protestors to burn off energy.
Saturday night protest took place a day after police arrested protest leader Daphni Leef and 12 others at a demonstration Friday, during which activists attempted to re-establish the protest camp on Rothschild Boulevard that served as a symbol of the 2011 summer protest movement.
Leef was also at Saturday night’s protest, where her arm was heavily bandaged from an injury she said she suffered during her arrest. Leef also said the incident left her with two bruised ribs.
Police said Saturday night that they did not think that Leef’s arrest had played a role in making the protests the next night as intense as they were, saying that certain protestors had planned ahead of time on making the protest violent.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On on Saturday slammed the Israel Police’s treatment of social justice protesters on Friday night.
"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."
'Growing evidence police used excessive force'
Opposition leader Shelly Yechimovich said Friday that evidence was growing to suggest police used excessive force in their breaking up of a social justice protest in central Tel Aviv on Friday at the site of last summer's Rothschild Tent City.
Yechimovich stated that protesters, old and young alike, were beaten, and actor Tomer Sharon and social justice movement leader Daphne 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 stated.
Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz called the police's 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."