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'Unprecedented' violence stalks anti-war demos across Israel

The recent demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Haifa against the Gaza war have largely failed to reach the global media. And while the end of the bloodshed still seems far from sight, there is a different, violent confrontation being held inside Israel – one that targets Arab citizens and left-wing activists on the internet, and uses physical violence against anti-war demonstrators.

By Omer Raz

Tel Aviv, July 13

The second weekend of Operation Protective Edge saw the first bout of physical violence at Habima Square – the cultural heart of Tel Aviv. At around 8 p.m. a crowd of several hundred people gathered to protest against Operation Protective Edge, and called for a ceasefire. A second small group, comprised largely of teens and young adults draped in Israeli flags, began harassing the anti-war demonstrators, shouting slogans against their protest and accusing them of treason. The protest got tense as the right-wingers became physically violent.

A few minutes after 9 p.m., air raid sirens began blaring after Hamas shot multiple long-range rockets at Tel Aviv. The leftist protest scattered to find shelter, while the rightists chased them into dark alleys and cafes, where several leftists were beaten. Shortly after, +972’s Haggai Matar wrote the following: “When the sirens sounded into the night, only one thing was obvious to all of us: the fascists in front of us are more dangerous than the rockets on the way.”

Right-wing nationalists attacking left wing activists during a protest in center Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. Three activists injured and one right-wing person arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Right-wing nationalists attacking left-wing activists during a protest in center Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. The protest ended with the nationalists attacking a small group of left-wing activists with little police interference. Three activists were injured and one right-wing person arrested. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The scene was later described by the new, self-ordained nationalist leader – a long forgotten ex-rapper who goes by the name of “The Shadow” (HaTzel). He wrote the following on his Facebook profile shortly after the protest:

We started with three people against their 800, and finished with 350 of ours and zero of them. It was crazy to do it all with sirens in the background and explosions in the sky.

Haifa, July 16-17

A city with a mixed population of Jews and Arabs, Haifa is known as a bastion of Jewish-Arab coexistence. (In the past it was referred to as “Red Haifa” for its blue-collar port and industry working class politics.) Haifa has held regular Saturday night demonstrations since the beginning of the assault. The July 16 protest was organized by the Balad party and Abna’a Al-Balad – a secular Palestinian movement in Israel – and included prominent Arab political figures such as Knesset members Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zehalka, both of whom are hated by the general non-Arabic public.

The demonstrators marched and chanted slogans through the streets of the Wadi Nisnas and the German colony neighborhoods, before violence erupted between the protesters and police forces, resulting in 40 arrests. The following day, Hadash, the Arab-Jewish socialist party, held a joint demonstration against the Gaza war as well as against the arrests. In response, leading figures of the far-right, including Kahanist activist Baruch Marzel, called on supporters to attend and “take a stand” against the anti-war demonstration.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate in front of Haifa's Baha'i Gardens against Operation Protective Edge. (photo: Activestills)

Palestinian protesters demonstrate in front of Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens against Operation Protective Edge. (photo: Activestills)

The police did not take any chances this time; helicopters hovered above Mount Carmel, police officers on horseback guarded the main entrances to the protest, and a large vehicle equipped with a water cannon was station across the road. The anti-war demonstrators numbered no more than 300, while at least 1,000 counter-protesters stood on the other side of Moriya Avenue. Police presence was heavy and kept the two sides at bay. The rightists yelled slogans such as “Go to Gaza,” “Death to Arabs,” and “Death to leftists.” Water bottles and stones were thrown at the Arabs and Jews who stood together and yelled “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

Young men in their 20s roamed the main road leading to the protest. They were hooligans; we had never seen them in Haifa before. This wasn’t only hostile ground for Arabs, it was hostile to anyone who is not committed to the war effort. When the left-wing protest dispersed and buses began to load people back to their homes, the mob got out of control. They started again chasing and beating leftists, including women and elderly people. The police then used water cannons and stun grenades to disperse the rioters; at least 30 people were injured.

Tel Aviv, July 26

It took three weeks before the anti-war camp slowly materialized. After the events in Haifa, organizers put together an event to be held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square – where 400,000 people once demonstrated against the Lebanon war in the 1982. Thousands were expected. Three hours before the event, just as people from all across the country were making their way to Tel Aviv in the heavy Saturday evening traffic, the police announced that it was canceling the protest for security reasons, because was slated to coincide with the end of the humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. However, the police reversed its decision one hour later. Between 4,000 and 5,000 protesters came to Rabin Square, with hundreds on the nationalist side. The latter were supported by many passersby on the street, who shouted and harassed the leftists.

Israelis protesting the Gaza war in Tel Aviv light candles to commemorate the victims. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israelis protesting the Gaza war in Tel Aviv light candles to commemorate the victims. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The demonstration was once again heavily guarded by police, and the two sides were separated by steel fences. Speeches were made by politicians, as well as by members of Combatants for Peace (former soldiers and militant Palestinians who have since come together to renounce violence). Police dispersed the protest at 10 p.m., a full hour before it was scheduled to end. But the nationalists did not stop there. As demonstrators were leaving the square, several were accosted and attacked by right wingers, some of them wielding metal batons. At least eight people were beaten and needed medical attention, while eight nationalist protesters were detained by police.

WATCH: Anti-war demonstrators square off with right-wingers in Tel Aviv:

Omer Raz is an environmental engineering student and former editor of the student magazine editor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.

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    1. Lo

      The “Middle East’s only democracy!” Strikes again.

      What truly astounds me as an American is that the only group more invested in Israel’s transformation from ethnocracy to modern liberal democracy than Arab Americans are Jewish Americans.

      AIPAC, the Conference of presidents of major Jewish organizations, Christians United for Israel and other powerhouses of the “Israel lobby” are increasingly speaking only for an elderly, white demographic that is being eclipsed by a younger, diverse coalition of interests. Israel’s sharp turn toward the right wing will only isolate it further from the liberal Jewish American majority.

      Reply to Comment
      • Christine

        You’ll notice that the violent group in the article above is mostly made up of young teens. I wouldn’t so casually assume that young people are more liberal and committed to ethnic tolerance. Rather, people with decades of experience, who observed various civil rights battles around the world, might understand why it is so important

        Reply to Comment
    2. Nielsen

      This is nothing folks! See what’s going on in Europe. No wonder that the “rightists” see the leftwing as traitors. For more than 40 years, the European left has been a sworn anti-Israel forum. The current “rightist” demonstrations should be seen as a reaction which has just never been seen before.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Goldmarx

      Israeli anti-war protesters need to think seriously about arming themselves. Fascists (some of whom post comments here) only understand one language, and it is vital that you defend yourselves.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        Only a (gold) Marxist would think of arming pacifists. O the moral quagmire in which the extreme left finds itself sinking.

        Reply to Comment
        • Reza Lustig

          There’s a difference between being anti-war (a particular war, or all war), and being a Quaker.

          Reply to Comment
        • JG

          Oh yeah, that’s the part you fascists won’t ever get and accept: that antifascism means hitting fascists first.
          Feel your own medicine.

          Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        They should take a lesson from the British “squadists,” who would steward left wing rallies or meetings, or find National Front members guilty of harassing leftists, and administer reprisal beatings to dissuade them.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Goldmarx

      What makes you think that all anti-war protestors are pacifists?

      Reply to Comment
    5. JohnW

      “What makes you think that all anti-war protestors are pacifists?”

      Yea, fellas, let’s kill all dirty right wingers to stop violence and war.

      And after that, let’s establish gulags and re-education centres to teach those who don’t follow dogma.

      Yes sirree bob, the left has a proud tradition of equality, democracy and non violence. Only, some are more equal than others. And the extreme lefties are not fascists. Not much … Extreme leftists are legends in their own minds.

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        Take your meds.

        Reply to Comment
        • JohnW

          What, did I strike a nerve? Did you read the comments of your fellow leftists here?

          Or was it the mention of Gulags and re-education camps that riled you up so much? They DID exist you know. You heard of uncle Stalin? The STASI and the NKVD? Oh yea, I nearly forgot Pol Pot and his thugs. They were all leftists you know and they were no less thuggish than the Gestapo or the Pinochets of the world.

          The truth hurts huh?

          Personally, I abhor both left wing and right wing extremists. What about you, Lustig?

          Reply to Comment
    6. JohnW

      “They should take a lesson from the British “squadists,” who would steward left wing rallies or meetings, or find National Front members guilty of harassing leftists, and administer reprisal beatings to dissuade them.”

      What hypocrites you are Lustig.

      You advocate self defence for leftists, but not for Israel.

      Reply to Comment