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      Israel's Anti-War Activists Feel Increasingly Threatened

      Israel's Anti-War Activists Feel Increasingly Threatened Israel's Anti-War Activists Feel Increasingly Threatened Israel's Anti-War Activists Feel Increasingly Threatened
      Image via AP/Gili Yaari

      Middle East

      Israel's Anti-War Activists Feel Increasingly Threatened

      By Dan Cohen

      For Jewish Israelis, and even more so for Palestinians inside Israel, opposing war is a dangerous act. With 86 percent of Israelis opposed to a ceasefire, the overwhelming public attitude leaves anti-war activists in a precarious position. One woman shouting in a pro-war counter-demonstration inadvertently described the tolerance for dissent during times of conflict: "You can protest after the war, but not during it!"

      Michael Sappir, 26, a Jewish Israeli member of Da'am, an Arab-Jewish socialist party, told VICE News: "Even though it's normally scary to publicly voice radical leftist positions in Israeli society, now there is a sense that everyone is united against you." 

      Mimi, a Jewish anti-war activist using a pseudonym, echoed Sappir's sentiments: "People like to say that Israeli society is half right-wing and half left-wing, but this is not true. The center is extremely right-wing."

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      For many Jewish Israeli anti-war activists, the night of July 12 was a turning point in being able to safely protest in public. As Israel launched airstrikes and shelled the Gaza Strip, demonstrators gathered in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. A pro-war counter-demonstration appeared and the police maintained a buffer between the two. As a siren rang out, indicating a rocket had been launched from Gaza, police fled the scene. Left unprotected, many of the anti-war demonstrators attempted to make their way into the bomb shelters, but were blocked and attacked by pro-war mobs.

      'When it's right-wing people doing stuff, we look aside, and when it's leftist people like you, we will hunt you down.'

      "We were left out there [by the police]," said Sappir. "Some of us formed a human chain which actually worked pretty well in keeping the ultra-Zionists from attacking us. Some people fled into a cafe and were attacked there, and someone had a chair broken over their head."

      The activist who was beaten with a chair spent the night in the hospital before returning to the scene the following day to apologize to the owner. He was again attacked in plain daylight and then blamed for events by the cafe's owner.

      These attacks against anti-war demonstrators are not isolated to the Tel Aviv area. On July 19, in the northern coastal city of Haifa, pro-war mobs shouted, "Deaths to Arabs," and attacked the deputy mayor and his son.

      "First of all, we didn't see any police or security officers at the beginning," Wa'd Ghantous, 22, a Haifa-based Palestinian activist, told VICE News. "When our march arrived at the tourist area of Haifa, the German Colony, the violence started immediately. I saw how the police were quickly grabbed people, pulled them down on the ground, hit or kicked them, and then moved to the next protester.

      "My friend was thrown on the ground, the officer yelled at her and kicked her. They were hitting and arresting a lot of people. At least eight officers were hitting one kid who was with us. Then they just walked away. I was pushed a lot as I tried to continue marching. A Yassam [riot police] officer pushed me onto the sidewalk. Every time I tried to move, he pushed me. He was doing it in front of my sister, who was really scared. 

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      "Then a policewoman got in my face very close. She said that me and the girls I was standing with are 'little terrorists.' When I laughed, a Yassam officer got really angry and said I will be the next one arrested."

      Several protesters claimed that police officers as sympathetic to the pro-war cause. Mimi said that when demonstrations are permitted, the police often fail to maintain separation between the opposing protests. "They allocate the two spaces next to one another. It's as if they are encouraging attacks," she explained.

      While anti-war Jewish Israelis have suffered violence while police turn a blind eye, Palestinians inside Israel have suffered additional punishment.

      Inbal Sinai, a Jaffa-based Jewish Israeli anti-war activist, recounted harassment by police sympathetic to the right wing. Sinai told VICE News about an interrogation for charges that she is not allowed to discuss, as the investigation is ongoing. "I asked the police officer why they don't deal with racist and criminal problems in Jaffa. The police officer said to me, 'When it's right-wing people that control the state doing stuff, we look aside, and when it's leftist people like you who are against the state, we will hunt you down.'"

      Sinai added: "I told the head of investigation about this and he said that he didn't know about it, even though everything in the investigation room is recorded. They harassed me, telling me, 'You are a whore and you like Arab dick.' It's not the first time."

      In response to the heightened violence of the pro-war crowds and police antipathy, anti-war protestors have taken measures to protect themselves. Sappir told VICE News: "There are groups that are now involved in self-defense. They make a human chain to form a buffering block if the demonstration is attacked."

      Mimi also explained her reasoning adopting a pseudonym: "People like me that are anti-Zionist and anti-regime, and are committed to resistance… if we are committed to staying in Israel, we will have to go underground. That's why I go on without my name."

      While anti-war Jewish Israelis have suffered violence while police turn a blind eye, Palestinians inside Israel have suffered additional punishment. The New Israel Fund, a pro-democracy organization, reported that dozens of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship have been fired from their jobs for Facebook posts "saying that the IDF is committing war crimes" or displaying "pictures of dead Palestinian children… or pictures of themselves with Palestinian flags at demonstrations."

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      On August 10, an anti-war demonstration led by mainstream left-wing political parties Meretz and Hadash, and the Peace Now NGO was cancelled by Israeli Home Front Command on the grounds that it presented a public danger due to rocket fire. Many were skeptical of this rationale because no other public events, some of which drew larger crowds, had been called off. 

      None of the three groups protested the cancellation, drawing criticism from other anti-war leftists. "There is a sense that the mainstream left isn't taking the danger seriously and they are trusting the police too much," said Sappir.

      Samar Asakli, 22, a Palestinian activist and student at Haifa University, described what he perceives as white supremacy in the mainstream left: "The Israeli mainstream left doesn't think Palestinians have a right to resist against the siege [on Gaza]. They tell us what we have to do because they are the intelligent people and we are primitive."

      With another ceasefire ending, neither Israel nor Hamas appear to be willing to end the conflict. The trends that anti-war activists describe will likely worsen until long-term solutions are found. In Israel's increasingly right-wing society, the marginalized anti-war left struggles to survive.

      Topics: middle east, israel, palestine, war & conflict, politics, anti-war, pro-war, idf, tel aviv, haifa, yassam, da’am, michael sappir, protests, demonstrations, gaza, palestinians, new israel fund, meretz, hadash, peace now, riot police

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