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WATCH: Thousands block highway, attack banks in J14 protest

Some 4,000 demonstrators clashed with police for more than four hours last night in the streets of Tel Aviv, blocking roads, smashing a few bank windows and besieging the local municipality. More than 80 were arrested in the most energetic and enraged J14 protest yet.

J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, on June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

All throughout the winter, Israelis wondered if the summer of protests would make a comeback this year, and some warned that the second time around would not be as “polite.” Last night (Saturday) thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv and proved that the struggle for social justice has not ended – and that things might be heating up this summer.

It all started on Friday afternoon, as police and municipal inspectors stopped some 500 activists from setting up a new encampment on Rothschild Boulevard, arresting protest organizer Daphni Leef and 10 others. The attack on the peaceful protest prompted an outcry on social networks, warnings of a “danger to democracy,” and calls for a demonstration Saturday night in order to “protect democracy” and to remind politicians of the movements’ unanswered demands for fair housing, education, healthcare, and other social benefits.

>> Click here for photos and a report of Friday’s violent arrests, which sparked last night’s protest >>

Some 2,000 people showed up on Rothschild at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, many of them arriving directly from a demonstration against homophobia that had taken place not far from there. Clashes with police started immediately as protestors started to move out of the boulevard, with police forbidding any kind of march. However, the masses were greater and angrier, and swarmed through the police blockade.

Over the coming four hours, the demonstration doubled in size, simultaneously blocking several main streets in Tel Aviv, including its central Ayalon highway. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the government and capitalism, against the banks and the Tel Aviv municipality that had given the order to take down the tents the day before, and in demand of social justice. At the center of Ibn Gabirol demonstrators broke several bank windows – something totally uncommon and foreign to local protests in Israel – and also besieged the municipality building.

Police officers in front of a bank whose window was smashed during a J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

The police was not prepared for the masses and the energy, and failed repeatedly in its attempts to open roads, eventually simply settling for protecting banks and the municipality from even worse attacks. As the hours went by, police started becoming more aggressive, eventually starting to make arrests and beat people. More than 80 were arrested by the end of the night – again, something almost unheard of in demonstrations in Tel Aviv.

Here is a video showing the protesters blocking the Ayalon highway:

At around 2 a.m., the crowd started to disperse, tired from ongoing confrontations. News of the vibrant demonstration was and still is the leading story in all the media and social networks.

J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, On June 23 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

There’s no telling where things will go from here, with activists calling for more demonstrations in days to come, and a no-confidence vote against Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, planned by the municipal opposition in tomorrow’s city council session. My own estimate is that things that happened last night are just the beginning, as what I witnessed in the streets is people who have lost their sense of fear. “Arrest one – a thousand more will come” was a popular slogan all through the night. If people last year sat in groups in the encampments and learned what they want and why they want it – last night was their first chance to learn firsthand how to get it while on the streets. After this, it is doubtful people will return to quiet rallies of the kind we saw last year.

J14 protest in Tel Aviv assembling in Habima Square, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

J14 protesters blocking the street in front of government office, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)

Video of arrests at the entrance to the Tel Aviv City Hall:


One of 89 J14 protesters who were arrested by police on June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Protesters banging on the wall of a bank during J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

J14 protesters blocking a Tel Aviv junction. Sign reads "bring back the welfare state" (photo: Activestills)

J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)

J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)

J14 protester arrested, June 23, 2012. At least 89 people were detained or arrested in Tel Aviv (photo: Activestills.org)

J14 protesters blocking the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Arrested J14 protesters held by police inside a Tel Aviv bank, June 23 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report. 

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    1. Mitchell Cohen

      Don’t get me wrong, as a struggling working class person hanging by a thread supporting my family, I support these protests. However, is violence ok here?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ruthie

      Mitchell – the only objects of violence, or rather vandalism, here were empty banks, and specifically, two of their windows. Not a single cop was injured (in Amona, for example, more than 60 were), and indeed all videos and eyewitnesses testify that the only violence towards anything living was by the police. This was not a violent protest – it was an angry protest, determined to interrupt the evening’s routine, and it was met with great violence.

      Reply to Comment
    3. At some point you are going to need politicos–political elite–on your side or this will fail. If large protests continue, you’ve made a raw wedge. One or more parties, or a new one (I guess this the best long term hope for Israel), will have to generalize from what you have and will do.
      But don’t be portrayed as young malcontents.
      The lower and middle middle class is slipping throughout much of the west. I’m beginning to wonder if Israel didn’t after all dodge the world recession, but was rather delayed in getting there. I know the GNP numbers look good; but, as in Egypt before the protests there, all depends on how those numbers are distributed.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Alon


      When you ask ‘Is violence ok here?’ We really need to be asking what we actually understand violence to mean.

      Now this might at first sounds like some obvious, and irrelevant question which should be confined to the lofty world of academia.

      However, the word ‘violence’ has been used on innumerable occasions to delegitimize often justified grievances which are then expressed in the form of protest. Its usage has a very real and detrimental impact on the perceived legitimacy and subsequent popularity of social movements.

      I live in London. I don’t condone most of what occurred during the riots last summer, but I was struck by one gut wrenching hypocrisy in particular when observing the media coverage. Every home that was destroyed was a tragedy, and the media made sure that images of burnt living rooms and smashed windows reached out across the world. The mass anger at such ‘senseless’ acts was understandable. But there was no reflection on what I consider to be a far greater violence.

      Roughly 30 homes were destroyed during the riots, but tens of thousands of homes had been repossessed by the government in the months prior. As far as I’m concerned, this is the real violence, the systemic one which has become naturalised and enshrined in law. For many, the absence of smashed windows and balaclava- wearing working class youth makes this a non-violent ‘necessary act’.

      We should transfer this reflection to the case of Israel. A smashed cash machine or bank window may seem ugly and violent, but in the context of vast inequality and deteriorating labour and living conditions, one should no longer see it as such.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Anahita

      I believe people of Israil, most stop violence in their protest. If they want social justice act of violence is against that. They can demonstrate in peace and say what they want The number of the people is the power and makes the voice load, not the act of violence. If they want more benefit from government they have country with a free election they should choose the member of governing who truly pro people and work for people. I don’t get it?! in the country that people elect government member why they should act in violence and aggravation? They can freely talk and by the number strengthen their voice. Any other way is not a democratic and civilized way of requesting or demanding the request.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      Violence by the left good. Violence by the right bad. Fighting against authority in the interest of the ‘welfare state’ is good. Fighting against authority in the interest of the ‘Jewish state’ is bad. Apparently the same left that castigated a bunch of hoodlums in Samaria when they confronted the military has no qualms about turning into hoodlums themselves in pursuit of vaguely defined goals. Attacks on democracy from the right are just terrible, but displaying distaste for democracy with such calls as ‘overthrow the government’ as seen in a poster above, presumably referring to a government consisting of 90+ elected members of parliament are just peachy. Got it. The left has no inherent respect for the actual concepts of democracy and the rule of law. They just use them as empty rhetorical tools for attacking the right. It is good that the banners of the left are shown for the hypocritical farces they have always obviously been.

      Looking at the pictures you know what I see? The whitest collection of Israelis possible. A group of middle class revolutionaries demanding relevance where none is deserved based on numbers or ideology. It is absurd to see people who are economically many times better off than their parents demand a return to an economic system that had demonstrably failed in Israel and everywhere else that it has been tried. I await someone to point me to the example of Europe as proof that the welfare state is a sustainable enterprise. Anyone?

      @Greg, a political party isn’t going to do much. The guys behind this protest have no electoral strength and minimal capacity for organization. The choice to pursue confrontation with the authorities has deprived them of their ability to carry out the mass mobilization of discontents that made last year’s social protests politically relevant.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Anthony

      Mitchell, mindless smashing of banks is definitely not ok.
      But my overall view of the protests would depend on whether the violent acts were representative of the protesters. Any gathering of thousands of people is bound to have some people get out of hand – but some protests (like the ones in London last summer) are predominantly and mindlessly violent.
      I’m interested to know though, one year on, whether the protesters are any closer to knowing what they want.

      Reply to Comment
    8. It is not the destruction of property as such which should bother, but a warning sign as to what the crowds can do when they gather; that is, what are their possibilities. Much social protest is symbolic, rather silly at face value. One protests not being allowed to protest (no tents this time) to make the unspoken point that people won’t go away and will mobilize somewhere, somehow. This is why I said, above, that political elites must take this cause as real, beginning with the right to protest itself. This deflects from property destruction, and gives the ruling elite less ammunition against you. For both sides are fighting for all those who remain in their homes, wondering what to believe, hope.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Piotr Berman

      If it takes 2000 protesters to break one window, this is not really violent. I understand that typically such windows have special glass and are not easy to break, I would guess there was no intention to break them.

      What is somewhat puzzling are three photos of arrests. A middle age policeman arrests (or restraints) a middle age guy, then a policeman past his prime years is acting upon a citizen of similar age, and finally several young policemen arrest a 20-something protester. It could be a sophisticated tactic of police.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kolumn9

      @Greg, what is the cause precisely? It is like the whole Occupy movement in the US. It is a ‘struggle’ of slogans devoid of practical political demands. There is nothing to take seriously because there is nothing here. These people are protesting each for his own reason and none for a common cause except to demonstrate their own activism. Look at me, I am an activist. I made a biting slogan that makes me feel like I am struggling for a vague grande goal which I can’t really formulate in practical terms, but the important thing is that I am here together with this mob protesting for something. I mean we must be protesting for something because we are all here and we are united in our protest. If we weren’t protesting for something we would be wasting our time, but we are not because look how many of us are here. Can’t you feel the energy? This is people bonding in the struggle. Watch us all repeat the same phrase at the same time. Wow, that is loud. It must mean something because we all said it….

      Reply to Comment
    11. Yonatan

      The violence will kill the protest.
      Last year I went to every demonstration,this year? I don’t know.
      I feel like the protest is being highjacked by violante professional people how demonstrate about everything

      Reply to Comment
    12. Maor

      What the hell is J14? it appears 18 times in this article

      Reply to Comment
    13. Haggai Matar

      @Maor – it’s the local verof the occupy movement, just before there was an occupy mement. J14 signals 14th of July, when activists staed the demos.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Caro

      Violence is ludicrous – you can change your government next year! Israel is not undergoing strict austerity measures or a failing economy. Yes internal reforms are needed to spread wealth more fairly but it is actually Bibi who is enacting the economic concentration legislation. The cost of living is high across the western world and inefficient Israeli public sector and big unions are also to blame in unequal public sector salaries

      Reply to Comment
    15. Piotr Berman

      Caro: violence is regrettable, particularly that in Israel it is a trademark of right wing or religious-nutty demonstrations, so the left should preserve the high ground.

      However, you may be rather hasty in declaring that (a) there are no reasonable issues (b) patient waiting for elections is the best way to go.

      Concerning (a), Israel is by no means a free economy, which is not necessarily bad, but the government has a huge impact by commission and omission. First, there state and quasi state government control uniquely large proportion of available land, not to mention zoning etc., so it has a big role in the real estate market. And it can choose to have more middle-mixed income religiously mixed housing, or not. If rents are squeezing the middle class, that means that the government regulates to benefit the landlords, sheltering them from competition.

      The trick that Steinitz pulled out recently about taxation of profits that were sheltered to promote internal investments, from the description it was done in the style that befits more Egypt than a democratic state.

      I do not live in Israel, nor I know Hebrew, but there are definitely many issues, including the cost of food which seems quite a bit higher than in EU.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Paul B

      Britain is a prime example of a sustainable welfare state in the sense of Public Health,communications and simple primal care, if it had not been Privatised by M. Thatcher and her robber barons and sold off to the middle class it would not have suffered half the problems it does today , she self-avowedly tried to turn it into a Little America with all of it’s concommittent problems of greed and societal dislocation.I point you to the Poll tax disobedience of the nineties there to see what the public can do when refusing to stand unfair Laws and regulations.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Kolumn9

      Paul, The UK is a prime example of a welfare state that hasn’t failed yet. You can’t claim a sustainable welfare state pointing to a country with an 8%+ of GDP budget deficit. Clearly Maggie didn’t go far enough. In any case, public health and communications work ok in Israel as well, so the protesters are expecting a bit more than just that in their definition of a welfare state. That is of course, if they have any practical demands in the first place..

      Reply to Comment
    18. Protests let off steam of the protestors. If there is no organization,it becomes a violent mob. That is what the leaders, if there are any,must guard against because that’s what the government of Netanyahu and Lieberman(and the Mayor) want. They want mob psychology to run amuk so that they can arrest and say it’s justifiable.
      Smart leadership, which Israelis, of all people, should know, is the esential ingrediant for any change. Especially economic change.

      Reply to Comment