WATCH: Border Police target progressive Tel Aviv cafe in late-night raid (updated)

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Two women at Albi, a café in south Tel Aviv that is popular with queer and progressive activist communities, were arrested in a violent police raid early Tuesday morning. A massive police force raided the café at around 1 a.m., after municipal inspectors claimed it was open past legal hours of operation. In fact, the café was closed. The two women – one of whom is the owner of the café – work there, and were tidying up and taking care of the cash register.

Dozens of Border Police officers with several police cars filled the dark and empty street in order to arrest the two, who had refused to identify themselves to the police. The officers claimed that the two women assaulted them. A video shot on the scene shows the absurd and disproportionate numbers of law enforcement agents present to handle two café workers.

The two are now detained and will be brought before a judge in the morning. I must say I’ve seen police here in south Tel Aviv in drug busts, catching bike thieves and on murder scenes – but I have NEVER seen this many cops in one place in our neighborhood

Update, 10:30 a.m.: One worker has been released, the other is still in police custody. Additionally, a closure order was issued against Albi, based on alleged “safety hazards.”

Update, 11:55 AM: City for All, the leading opposition party in the Tel Aviv municipality (which will be running in local elections in two months) is organizing a demonstration at police headquarters this evening following the events at Albi.

Update, 12:30 PM: The second detainee from Albi has been released. Following the violent arrest, she needs medical treatment and is on her way to the hospital.

Update, 16:00: Police forces attempted to shut down the Albi and weld the door shut. Activists who gathered at the café stood in their way, and MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) who came to show his support, convinced the commanding officer to postpone enforcement of the closure order until an appeal against it will be heard in court. Police have not left, but activists are staying at Albi to protect it.

Ha’aretz’s police correspondent writes the following on reactions at the TLV police force:

A police source emphasized that “based on an initial investigation into the Café Albi affair, residents [original Hebrew = “citizens” – ed] complained about noise emanating from the cafe. A municipal inspector who arrived at the scene requested that the staff member stop making the noise and identify herself, she refused and the inspector called for police backup. Subsequently, two police officers, a man and a woman, arrived on the scene in an additional police vehicle.” According to the source, “The male police officer entered the cafe and explained to the girl [not woman – ed] that she was required to identify herself, but she continued to refuse. Another woman took advantage of the situation and locked the cafe door, so the inspector who was left outside reported to the dispatcher that there was a police officer inside the café and police vehicles were sent to the place.” In addition, police sources claimed that the police did not feel any need to apologize for the incident and emphasized that “these are the same [female] individuals who have been involved in several incidents in recent years.”

Update, 18:00: Police are back at Albi, trying to confiscate equipment.
Update, 20:45: Several hundred supporters gathered in Albi to greet the released workers. Some will stay to guard the cafe while the majority is preparing to march towards Police HQ.

Police officer faces Ortal Ben Dayan and friends at the Albi (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)
Police officer faces Ortal Ben Dayan and friends at the Albi (Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

The incident occurred just two weeks after local activist Ortal Ben Dayan was arrested by the paramilitary border police in the same café on Hagdud Haivri Street in south Tel Aviv, as she was defending Palestinian family members from police officers who were harassing them. Because Ben Dayan refused to identify herself at the time, she was arrested. A judge later released her without charge, and scolded police for the unjustified arrest. The arresting officer was discharged from duty for cursing Ben Dayan and for Facebook posts in which he proclaimed his racism against Arabs. Ben Dayan, who shot the video, asserts that tonight’s raid was a case of the Border Police seeking revenge for her having successfully challenged their overstepping their authority.

A Haaretz profile of Albi, published last year, can be found (in Hebrew only) here.