Meanwhile in Haifa: One demonstrator tells of being punched in the head in the “City of Tolerance”

Guest writer: Samuel Tell

I am a demonstrator.  I’ve been to demonstrations in Hebron (where I almost took a tear-gas grenade to the head), Nabi Saleh, Bil’in, etc. Tonight was the first time I felt truly afraid at a demonstration. And it was in Haifa.

Here is an advertisement from the Haaretz Peace Conference, extolling Haifa as a ‘City of Tolerance,’ where Jews and Arabs get along in harmony, an ‘island of sanity in the Middle East:’

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This was Haifa last night:

Last night, people broadly aligned with the Hadash political party organized a demonstration in Haifa, titled ‘Stop the killing of children and civilians. Progress towards a just peace.’ As a supporter of Civil Rights and as an opponent of pointless violence I went out into the streets of my own neighborhood in Haifa today to ask that the soldiers (some of whom are my close friends) be brought home immediately. On the way to the demonstration I had a plastic chair thrown at my head. I shrugged it off—surely once I got to the demonstration spot the police would protect me.

When I got to the place that the demonstration was called for, I saw hundreds of people waving giant Israeli flags and chanting, in the usual happy tunes, lyrics about Mohammed being a son of a whore from Gaza who works in construction, as well as wishing Arabs a speedy exit from this temporal realm.

Right-wing counter-demonstration in Haifa

I crossed the street to the other side, where I spoke to a cop in plainclothes. “Where are the people who are against violence?” I asked. “There,” he replied, pointing at the crowd.

“But they are chanting ‘Death to Arabs,’” I said, “that sounds like violence to me.”

“I’m alright with that,” he replied.

I stood a few meters away from the cop and raised my sign. I asked multiple police officers to please stand next to me for protection. Finally one came over, but only to forcefully eject me. Seeing that there was no point in resisting, I began walking back towards Carmel Center. On the way, and in clear view of the police, I was suddenly punched in the back of the head and then, as I bent over, was kneed in the face. Luckily my hands were in front of my face and absorbed most of the blow and luckily my attackers decided to run off. The only person who came to my assistance was a woman who started to cry as she asked me if I was OK. “I can’t believe this is happening in Haifa!” she sobbed. “When did we become like Jerusalem?”

I had lost faith in the ability of the police to do anything at this point, so I made my way to the new gathering point of the demonstration, and proceeded to watch our group be hemmed in by the police. And then receive flying projectiles (mostly ice-filled bottles and rocks) from across the street. The police made no attempt to find the people throwing these items at us. Despite ours being a noticeably smaller demonstration, there were many more police monitoring our side. We were supposed to walk to Horev Center (we received a permit from the Supreme Court) but the police canceled the march in the name of ‘public safety.’

The signs read: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and “Arab-Jewish partnership against the fascism,” in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively

At precisely 11 pm, the police closed ranks on us and herded us into the neighborhood where the bus was waiting to take people back to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Of course, the fascists followed us inside, and now we were trapped. I heard that there were fascists waiting on every corner in Carmel Center and the police decided only to surround us. As I looked for a few people to form a walking group for protection, I saw the same plainclothes cop from before. As I passed next to him, I quietly said, “You are dangerous to national security.” If looks could kill…

Eventually, I found a few people and we crawled over walls and through bushes, and eventually made it back to my apartment. We could hear a helicopter circling overhead (why? To better document the police’s ineffectiveness?) and roving gangs chanting in the street, attacking one of the buses that brought left-wing demonstrators from outside Haifa.

Demonstrator wounded from a glass bottle thrown by a right-winger
Demonstrator wounded from a glass bottle thrown by a right-winger

I later learned that the police used a water cannon and police horses on some of the right-wingers who were preventing people from leaving, but to no avail. There were just too many of them. The police ended up commandeering a public bus to take 80 activists to the Hof HaCarmel parking lot near the beach, where they transferred to a bus organized by the activists. Right-wingers were waiting for them at the beach and threw stones at that bus as well, breaking two windows.

It was reported that eight left-wingers were arrested; all were released unconditionally at 4:30 am. About a dozen were wounded either from projectiles or beating; a broken nose and a broken shoulder were among the most serious injuries. It is still unclear how many right-wingers were arrested.

Last night, the police did very little last night to protect the anti-violence demonstrators, many of whom were Palestinian.

Last night, it felt for a moment that there was nowhere to hide from the fascist mobs, as, ultimately, there is nowhere to hide from the Occupation.