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 police, 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.