Riot police break up peaceful Nakba remembrance in Tel Aviv

April 27, 2012
Sarah Benton

Police besiege, arrest activists planning to commemorate Nakba
Haggai Matar, +972

Some 15 activists from the organization Zochrot were besieged by police on Wednesday night in the NGO’s offices, in order to prevent them from quietly commemorating the Palestinian Nakba on Israeli Independence Day. Three were arrested for reading aloud names of destroyed villages.

Activist arrested while reading names of Palestinian villages (Activestills)

Reports started flowing in at around 22:30 p.m. through text messages and phone calls. Some 15 activists from Zochrot (“Remembering”), an Israeli NGO dedicated to preserving the memory the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) among the Hebrew-speaking public, had gathered in the group’s offices on Ibn Gabirol Street in central Tel Aviv. They were planning a quiet symbolic action entailing placing placards with the names of villages demolished in the 1948 war on the ground in Rabin Square, the epicenter of Independence Day festivities. Actions very much like it have been carried out by the group every year on the same day for at least seven years.

However, this time the activists were surprised to see riot police forces building up a barricade around the building while they were inside. When they tried to leave for their quiet ceremony, activists were told by high ranking officers on the site that they are forbidden to do so, and that anyone trying to skip over the fences would be immediately arrested. “They said their goal was to prevent us from disturbing the peace,” says Liat Rosenberg, Zochrot director. “We were held captive for about four hours, and were told we could only leave if each and every one of us shows an ID, turns in all [protest-related] materials, and goes through an interrogation and a physical search. Attorney Gabi Lasky told police that they are unlawfully imprisoning the activists, but they refused to stand down.”

Zochrot activist holding a sign with the name of a Palestinian village (Activestills)

Other protesters on the scene said they were asked to sign a form in which they vowed not to “distribute propoganda” or to disturb the peace. “It’s amazing that a small, quiet action of little more than ten people can be considered a violation of the peace, while the whole street is filled with masses of drunk people celebrating,” said another activist.

Police arrest 3 at ‘Nakba’ event ‘stand-off’ in TA
By Ben Hartman, JPost

Police arrested three people for disturbing the peace outside the Tel Aviv offices of the Zochrot (“Remembrances”) organization on Wednesday night, during an unusual standoff that took place shortly after the group held an Independence Day event commemorating pre- 1948 Arab villages.

The event consisted of a meeting and a lecture inside the group’s headquarters, a small office inside a converted apartment in a residential building about two blocks away from the main Independence Day celebrations at Rabin Square. Attendees had planned on exiting the building and leaving fliers on the sidewalk and side street outside their offices, which showed the names of Arab villages that existed within the Green Line before the founding of the state.

When they came downstairs, they said they were told by police that the fliers were “incitement material” and that distributing them would be considered disturbing the peace. Police told them they would only be allowed to leave the building if they left the posters behind and identified themselves to police officers.

A standoff of sorts ensued, and police eventually arrested three people for disturbing [the peace], including one who had arrived from outside the event and was standing in the street reading the names of villages that were in the Tel Aviv area before 1948.

Eitan Bronstein, the spokesman for Zochrot, said that the group has held the event for several years and has never had a problem. He said that they speak to people about the posters and at times there are arguments and some anger directed at them, but said that they had never encountered violence.

When asked if the event could be seen as a provocation, he said that the point of the event was merely to show that “the independence that we are celebrating was won at the expense of the Palestinians who lived here.”

While the building was still barricaded, attorney Gaby Lusky, who represents a number of left-wing activists and organizations, arrived to speak to the police, and said that what they were doing constituted false imprisonment.

She said that the protesters did not legally need to identify themselves, and that police would need to either let them leave or arrest them, not just hold them indefinitely.

By 11 p.m. there were around two dozen riot police at the scene, including two standing in the courtyard in an alley next to the building, to make sure no one exited by sneaking around the back.

The large police presence brought a sizable amount of attention from passersby, who came to check out the group of around a dozen activists holding small placards with the names of Arab villages in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Most passersby took a quick glance and continued walking, though a few, most seemingly drunk, stopped to speak with activists, occasionally becoming heated, but quickly continuing on their way to Independence Day parties.

One such passerby was a drunk teenager – wearing electric bunny ears and holding a bottle of beer – who spent 30 minutes alternating between arguing with activists, hugging them, dancing, and finally being told by one riot cop that he needed to calm down or risk a charge of disturbing the peace or drunk and disorderly.

By around 2 a.m. police relented and cleared the barricades, and the rest of the protesters left without incident or identifying themselves.

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