Tonight after finishing an update on the rocket fire in the South, I was writing an article in response to Steven Waltz’s article in Foreign Affairs on why Iran should get the bomb. From my home office window I heard the sound of protesters coming from the street (I live close to Rabin Square). So I went out to investigate.
What I found initially, was much of what I had expected. There was a small demonstration to protest the arrests that took place on Friday in Tel Aviv, of Dafna Leif and others. The protesters were all young. They were heading down Ibn G’virol Street toward City Hall. Initially there was no police presence. The demonstrators were looking for some sort of confrontation. They moved from place to place. Then they held a sit–in, in the middle of the street at the intersection of Frishman and Ibn G’virol.
At first I thought the police were going to do the smart thing– Let the protestors do their thing and then go on with the night. By this point, there was a larger police presence, including a large number of young soldiers serving as police.
Then, I believe, the police made a crucial error. Someone decided that the police were not going to be pushed around by a group of “spoiled Tel Aviv demonstrators”. They attempted to block the demonstrators, (who, by now, had swelled to over 5,000) from moving down Ibn G’virol back toward City Hall. When the first demonstrator tried to cross the police line he was grabbed by four police officers and dragged away. This immediately changed the mood of the night. The demonstrators turned angry, and so did the police.
I was standing on the sidewalk watching, but I was close to where they had taken the protestor. Suddenly a police phalanx was deployed right in front of me. While I was standing in one place, one of the young police officers must have decided that I, a 57 year old, greying middle aged man, was a threat. He violently pushed me away. Then the crowd started pushing towards the man who was arrested. The police sent in reinforcements. The crowd was pressed against the Bank Discount and the police decided to move them.
I was towards the back of the crowd on the sidewalk. The police charged. Frankly, for a moment, I feared for my personal safety. How ironic? I was not afraid when as I youth I partroled the Kasbah of Schechem, nor while patrolling the Gaza in Miluim 30 years ago. But here, I was a few blocks from my house and I was afraid of the Israeli police.
The event passed. However, the cat and mouse game between the police and the demonstrators continued for another hour– with short outbreaks of brief violence. At times, the police blocked not only the street, but blocked the passage of people on the sidewalk.
I have to question why the police were not prepared? Why do they have to react with such violence? In my youth I participated in sit-ins for Soviet Jewry and many other protests. Rarely did the police respond with anything but bemusement, and relative respect. Furthermore, I have to wonder, if this is how they respond to protesting youth (20 plus year olds) in downtown Tel Aviv, with large number of the media present, how do they react when dealing with Arab demonstrators?
I cannot say for sure, but I think tonight marked a turning point in the demonstrations. There is now more of a sense of “us–against–them”. Of course, it’s a strange “us–against–them”, the children of the elite, demonstrating against the government. It’s not at all clear where the protests go from here. For as I have written previously, the protestors do not have a clarity of goals. However,we are heading into a difficult summer, (I am not even referring to Iran, Egypt, Hamas, etc.), as the government tries to find a solution to Haredi draft problem– but clearly will not be able to come close to satisifying the goals of either side. Once all the police had to worry about were angry Haredim. Today I think they will need to be worried about the anger of the young demanding social justice as well.