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WATCH: Border Police target progressive Tel Aviv cafe in late-night raid (updated)

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Two women at Albi, a café in south Tel Aviv that is popular with queer and progressive activist communities, were arrested in a violent police raid early Tuesday morning. A massive police force raided the café at around 1 a.m., after municipal inspectors claimed it was open past legal hours of operation. In fact, the café was closed. The two women – one of whom is the owner of the café – work there, and were tidying up and taking care of the cash register.

Dozens of Border Police officers with several police cars filled the dark and empty street in order to arrest the two, who had refused to identify themselves to the police. The officers claimed that the two women assaulted them. A video shot on the scene shows the absurd and disproportionate numbers of law enforcement agents present to handle two café workers.

The two are now detained and will be brought before a judge in the morning. I must say I’ve seen police here in south Tel Aviv in drug busts, catching bike thieves and on murder scenes – but I have NEVER seen this many cops in one place in our neighborhood

Update, 10:30 a.m.: One worker has been released, the other is still in police custody. Additionally, a closure order was issued against Albi, based on alleged “safety hazards.”

Update, 11:55 AM: City for All, the leading opposition party in the Tel Aviv municipality (which will be running in local elections in two months) is organizing a demonstration at police headquarters this evening following the events at Albi.

Update, 12:30 PM: The second detainee from Albi has been released. Following the violent arrest, she needs medical treatment and is on her way to the hospital.

Update, 16:00: Police forces attempted to shut down the Albi and weld the door shut. Activists who gathered at the café stood in their way, and MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) who came to show his support, convinced the commanding officer to postpone enforcement of the closure order until an appeal against it will be heard in court. Police have not left, but activists are staying at Albi to protect it.

Ha’aretz’s police correspondent writes the following on reactions at the TLV police force:

A police source emphasized that “based on an initial investigation into the Café Albi affair, residents [original Hebrew = “citizens” – ed] complained about noise emanating from the cafe. A municipal inspector who arrived at the scene requested that the staff member stop making the noise and identify herself, she refused and the inspector called for police backup. Subsequently, two police officers, a man and a woman, arrived on the scene in an additional police vehicle.” According to the source, “The male police officer entered the cafe and explained to the girl [not woman – ed] that she was required to identify herself, but she continued to refuse. Another woman took advantage of the situation and locked the cafe door, so the inspector who was left outside reported to the dispatcher that there was a police officer inside the café and police vehicles were sent to the place.” In addition, police sources claimed that the police did not feel any need to apologize for the incident and emphasized that “these are the same [female] individuals who have been involved in several incidents in recent years.”

Update, 18:00: Police are back at Albi, trying to confiscate equipment.
Update, 20:45: Several hundred supporters gathered in Albi to greet the released workers. Some will stay to guard the cafe while the majority is preparing to march towards Police HQ.

Police officer faces Ortal Ben Dayan and friends at the Albi (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Police officer faces Ortal Ben Dayan and friends at the Albi (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

The incident occurred just two weeks after local activist Ortal Ben Dayan was arrested by the paramilitary border police in the same café on Hagdud Haivri Street in south Tel Aviv, as she was defending Palestinian family members from police officers who were harassing them. Because Ben Dayan refused to identify herself at the time, she was arrested. A judge later released her without charge, and scolded police for the unjustified arrest. The arresting officer was discharged from duty for cursing Ben Dayan and for Facebook posts in which he proclaimed his racism against Arabs. Ben Dayan, who shot the video, asserts that tonight’s raid was a case of the Border Police seeking revenge for her having successfully challenged their overstepping their authority.

A Haaretz profile of Albi, published last year, can be found (in Hebrew only) here.

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    1. Sof Maarav

      Maybe they’d heard there were leftover doughnuts.

      Reply to Comment
    2. “…asserts that tonight’s raid was a case of the Border Police seeking revenge for her having successfully challenged their overstepping their authority.” : One may hope for an even angrier judge. I think the seeds for evolving judicial independence are there. Cases like this can help tilt the courts that way.

      Minimally, this event shows an incompetent allocation of resources. Events like this reflect elite battles; what activism does is allow the battles to happen.

      Reply to Comment
      • ayla

        yes, historically, it has often taken court cases to bring police–um, let’s say biases–and injustice to light. let’s hope that’s the outcome, for this country’s sake. no matter how one feels about the activism of some of this cafe’s patrons, if one puts their own politics ahead of democracy, well. those are bad politics.

        Reply to Comment
    3. O.Selznick

      Haggai, is there a possibility for an update?
      what happend to the women? did the police release them at the station?
      Were they brought before a judge? if so, I’m hoping such judge would bash the police for such behavior.

      Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        Right now, 10 AM local time, the two are still at the police station, now with a lawyer there as well. Once we know more on charges and court rulings I will update the post

        Reply to Comment
    4. XYZ

      This piece is a perfect example fo the confusion that arises from the way Progressives use the word “Palestinian”. The writer states that Ortal was defending “Palestinian” family members from the police. Now, I assume that this is not a reference to Palestinian Jews, i.e. Jews who live in the territory that Arabs call Palestine and Jews call Eretz Israel. However, there is a significant difference if the writer is referring to Israeli Arabs or Arabs who are citizens of the Palestinian Authority. If they are Israeli Arabs, then they are Israeli citizens entitled to full and equal protection of the law, whereas Arab citizens of the Palestinian Authority may very well be illegally in sovereign Israeli territory, and so the police would have grounds to arrest them just on that basis.

      Reply to Comment
      • On evidence of the post, the first judge did not agree; Ortal was released with reprimand to the police.

        Your comment is a perfect example of how labels are used to obfuscate the problem at hand. I suspect the two women arrest NOW are Israeli citizens. The issue is why so many police made presence over what, on evidence of post, is an arrest without cause, as the shop was closed.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Matthieu

      What does the israeli law say?
      Is it legal to refuse to comply to a police request to present ID, and in which circumstances?
      Under what circumstance is it legal for the police to take you into custody, for how much time and under which circumstances?
      As far as I know, the police needs a warrant to enter anyone’s house. Does the same go for semi-public spaces such as cafes?

      Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        The law requires that you present an ID if you are suspected of anything. In this case (unlike Ortal’s story two weeks ago) the workers said they weren’t told they were suspected of doing anything before being arrested. However, for some people refusal to show an ID is a way of making a statement – legal or illegal.

        Reply to Comment
      • On my guess, the police have to provide cause when asking for ID. If no cause is offered, they have no power. If the place was closed with no suspicious activity otherwise, arrest for refusing to produce ID is ungrounded. Cause must be offered to prevent police whim from evolving.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      There is no doubt that this police harassment is connected to the owners’ political activism. The fact that the cafe was the location of the now-infamous altercation between Ortal Ben Dayan and that uniformed thug she got fired is no coincidence.

      The police, in their usual idiotic M.O., believe that harassing people will lead to their acquiescence; obviously, the police have no idea who they’re dealing with here.

      Reply to Comment
    7. twyne

      your article says “In fact, the café was closed. The two women – one of whom is the owner of the café – work there, and were tidying up and taking care of the cash register.”

      looks like more than 2 people in that cafe…more like 20 people. also does not look like its closed. give us all the facts. dont make this out to be something it is not. shameful reporting!

      Reply to Comment
      • The photo is of the protest today, not the initial arrest that happened in the middle of last night.

        Reply to Comment
      • Haggai Matar

        Twyne – whay Vicky said.

        Reply to Comment