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Bil’in Comes to Tel Aviv

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Uri Avnery on protests in Israel and the West Bank:

At the end of [last] summer, the mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, nominally a member of the Labor Party, sent his “inspectors” to demolish the hundred tents in the Boulevard. The protest went into prolonged hibernation over the winter and good old “security” pushed “social justice” off the agenda.

Everyone expected the protest, like the sleeping beauty, to come to life again this summer. The question was: how?

NOW IT is happening. With the official beginning of summer, June 21, the protest started again.

This time, the authorities were prepared. Lengthy – if secret – consultations have obviously taken place. The Prime Minister was determined not to be humiliated again – not after TIME magazine crowned him “King Bibi” and the German vulgar mass-circulation paper, BILD, followed suit, enthroning his wife, Sara, too. (Sara’le, as she is generally called, is as popular as Marie Antoinette in her time.)

SO WHEN Daphni [Leef, who initiated the protests last summer] appeared on the scene, everything was ready.

Mayor Huldai’s “inspectors”, who have never before been seen in a violent role, attacked the few dozen protesters, shoved them roughly around and trampled on their tents.

When the protesters did not cede their ground, the police were deployed. Not just ordinary police officers, but also the specially trained riot police and police commandos. The photos and videos show policemen attacking protesters, hitting and kicking them. One policeman was shown choking a young woman with both his hands. Daphni herself was thrown to the ground, kicked and beaten.

Next day, the pictures appeared in the papers and on television. The public was shocked.

When 12 protesters were brought to court, after spending the night under arrest, the judge sharply criticized the police and sent them home.

The next day, a second demonstration took place to protest against the treatment of Daphni. Again the police attacked the protesters, who reacted by blocking central thoroughfares and smashing the glass doors of two banks.

The government, the police chiefs and the mayor were horrified. “A well-prepared riot by violent thugs!” the commander of the country’s police force called the event in a specially convened press conference. “Vandalism!” the mayor chimed in.

AT THE time these events occurred, a group of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists were holding a protest in Sussia, a small Arab village on the edge of the desert south of Hebron.

For a long time, the occupation authorities have been trying to drive the Palestinians from this area, in order to enlarge the neighboring settlement (which bears the same name) and in future annex the area. After the Arab houses were destroyed, the inhabitants found refuge in ancient caves. From time to time the army tries to drive them out, blocking the wells and arresting the people. All of us in the peace movement have taken part in protests there at one time or another.

Compared to what happened there, the Rothschild events were child’s play. The police employed tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, water cannon and “skunk water” – a stinking substance that clings to the body for days and weeks.

There is a lesson there. Police officers who are routinely employed to put down the protests in Bil’in and other places in the West Bank and then are sent to Tel Aviv cannot be expected to become London policemen overnight. Brutality cannot be stopped forever on the Green Line. Sooner or later, Bil’in was bound to come to Tel Aviv.

A public opinion poll taken this week shows that 69% of Jewish Israelis (Arabs were not asked) support the renewed protest, and 23% said that violent protests may become necessary.

Hours after publication, Binyamin Netanyahu announced that the planned tax raise for the poor and the middle class had been dropped. Instead, the budget deficit would be allowed to rise dramatically. This is blatantly against Netanyahu’s basic convictions and shows how afraid of the protest he is.

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