Avi Shamir

Protestors: Protect Yourselves!

As a caring parent, I have cause to worry about the looming threat of police brutality at demonstrations against Israel’s antagonistic government: My son, a regular protester, suffered a serious head injury in an unrelated accident a few years ago. I shudder to think about the consequences of a second blow to his head at the hands of an overzealous law enforcer. That was our very first thought, conveyed in exchanged glances with my dear wife, when we heard on the radio that things were getting violent at a demonstration in Tel-Aviv last Thursday night.

In this polarized atmosphere, I personally, my family, friends and many like-minded Israelis have been called by our detractors such hateful epithets as “anarchists” and “traitors,” all because we speak out against what we perceive to be a threat of a neo-fascist takeover in our liberal democratic state.

Those who so disparage us don’t see the obvious: that our ranks include, right, left, religious, secular, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi elements, that we are demonstrating for the rights of minorities and all Israelis, and that our movement is by nature nonviolent. Making noise by a government minister’s residence, marching on the Ayalon Highway and staging a mass protest at Ben Gurion Airport are justified acts when weighed against the consequences of losing our nation’s democratic character. Our protests haven’t caused injuries to nonparticipants or collateral damage. Going back to the Balfour demonstrations, our activities have not resulted in one broken window. The protestors are regularly told by prominent activists not to resist arrest. In fact, many demonstrations have culminated, just before the singing of the Hatikva, with a spokesperson thanking the police for doing their job, which means protecting us from the violent tendencies of certain Israelis who object to our right to assemble and free speech. That said, why are our sons and daughters and old timers like yours truly facing the threat of police brutality?

Plainly stated, the extremist government is now openly turning our law enforcers into ruthless oppressors. Consider the poisonous words and deeds of key Israeli officials who already stepped over the red line. Need I mention names? Everyone knows who they are, and their very job titles are enough to send shivers down one’s spine. The National Security Minister, whose CV includes association with a terrorist organization, directs the Tel Aviv Police Chief to “break bones” and “fill Ichilov Hospital” with beaten anarchists; this edict, and the subsequent firing of the top cop who doesn’t follow the order, is sanctioned by the cynical Crime Minister, who infamously promised the “National Security” guy separate funding for a redundant National Guard that would amount to his own private army. Now assorted government ministers are calling to dump the Attorney General for not supporting police “toughness.” And in the meantime, the Justice Minister and Chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee (!!) steamroll ahead with their “judicial reform” which, for starters, will strip Israel’s High Court of its power to object to the reasonableness of all this stinking to high heaven undemocratic activity.

As a law-abiding citizen, I take exception to unscrupulous law enforcers shooting water cannon at the eyes and limbs of peaceful protestors, mounted police “butting” people who don’t get out of their way fast enough on the Ayalon, and cops willing to comply with an order to break bones.

And so I urge all protestors, Israel’s finest in these nightmarish times, to please wear helmets at demonstrations. I know, it doesn’t fit the Israeli tough guy image to sport protective gear. Yes, I’m worried about my son, and I don’t want him to stick out, so I’m asking everyone to please do the same. Call me a hysterical father, I’ve been called worse things. More importantly: if some of Israel’s right-wing “moderates,” the folks who can sway public opinion, see everyone running around with helmets at demonstrations, the next time Mr. National Security points a loaded gun at the heart of the nation it might occur to them that there is nothing moderate about this government and its agenda.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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