ISRAEL

Israelis opposed to Gaza air strikes face violence, intimidation

It’s never easy time be an Israeli opposed to the country’s policies in the Palestinian Territories. But after a week of escalating IDF attacks, with Israel carrying out air strikes on Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel, Israeli activists are ramping up demonstrations to decry the violence – on both sides. And they are facing increasingly violent and agressive opposition.  During their latest protest on Saturday, they were attacked by an angry mob.

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On Tel Aviv Saturday, young men, some of them with their faces hidden, attack demonstrators protesting Israel's attacks on Gaza. Screen grab from the video below. 

It’s never easy be an Israeli opposed to the country’s policies in the Palestinian Territories. But after a week of escalating military attacks, with Israel carrying out air strikes on Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel, Israeli activists are ramping up demonstrations to decry the violence – on both sides. And they are facing violent and agressive opposition. During their latest protest on Saturday, they were attacked by an angry mob.

The demonstrators who gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening were expecting trouble. Right-wing activists had taken to Facebook to warn that they would stage a counter-protest. Among them was Yoav Eliasi, a rapper better known as “The Shadow”, who had called on his fans to come out “in full force like lions”.

Saturday's demonstration. The counter-protesters can be seen attacking the crowd at the 6-minute mark. Video courtesy of Yisrael Puterman.

“It was pretty clear that both sides were more worried about each other than the rockets”

Michael Sappir, who describes himself as an “anti-occupation” activist, explains what happened:

We had gone out to demonstrate against the massacre that’s going on in Gaza – I don’t think it can be called a war, because there are casualties on only one side. We are well-defended by the Iron Dome missile shield, but the Gazans don’t have that kind of luck.

We’ve been holding demonstrations a couple times a week for a few weeks now. Up until the latest demonstration, there was a little bit of backlash from passersby, but not much. What happened Saturday really took us by surprise. At first there were only a handful of counter-demonstrators, but they soon outnumbered us. They were truly bloodthirsty. The police did separate the counter-protesters from our group most of the time, but there weren’t enough of them, and then the attack sirens rang out.

We had been instructed by the police to head to a nearby car park where there was a shelter, but the counter demonstrators blocked our way. They tried to beat some of us, and sexually harassed others. We couldn’t get to the shelter, and the police - instead of helping us - just ran off to get to a shelter themselves.

We were alone, face to face with these counter-protesters. And the interesting thing was that despite the rocket assault, it was pretty clear that both sides were more worried about each other than the rockets. We did pause, between chanting slogans, to watch the Iron Dome rockets intercepting the rockets fired out of Gaza, but that was only for a second. It was a very strange situation.

 

"A friend of mine got hit over the head by a chair"

We built a human chain to try to keep everyone together and safe. The sirens ended and the police came back; some of us talked to them and we agreed that the police would hold back the counter-protesters so that we could get away. But after we’d walked away, a few minutes later, they suddenly showed up on motorcycles and on foot, and charged us again. Ultimately a friend of mine got hit over the head by a chair, and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Several others were more lightly hurt. We all feel that it was mainly luck that nothing worse happened.

Counter-protesters can be seen trying to attack the demonstrators at the 1-minute mark. 

 

“It’s scary to speak out right now”

This is definitely the worst attack on a demonstration I’ve seen in Tel Aviv, and some of my friends who regularly demonstrate in the West Bank said that it was actually worse than the violence they’d experienced there on the part of the army, because when the army attacks them, it does so in a well-organised manner, and you know what to expect. Here, it was just a mess of angry people.

It’s scary to speak up right now. Everything feels so volatile. I hush my voice when I talk about Palestinian issues in public, because I don’t know who might be listening. Activists feel it’s dangerous to walk around with political T-shirts unless we’re in a large group; in fact, people will often change into their T-shirts only once they’ve grouped together. And every time we organise a demonstration, we worry that nobody will even show up – the thought of being out there alone is terrifying.

But we have to speak up. Even if we can’t convince many people right now to openly oppose the massacre, I do think there are a lot of people who are against it and who need to see that there is someone speaking out so they can dare speak out as well. And this is an opportunity to have a real public discourse on a question that is central to our life here, because unfortunately Israelis are very comfortable just not talking about Palestinians at all unless Palestinians are attacking us.

Several opposition political parties have called for a probe into the actions of the police during Saturday’s demonstration.  Among these is the Meretz party, whose head has also called for a diplomatic solution to the current conflict rather than a military one. The Labour party, meanwhile, has been loath to take a firm position. On the right, some parties have accused the government of not going far enough, and called for a full-on ground invasion of Gaza.