WATCH: Thousands block highway, attack banks in J14 protest

Some 4,000 demonstrators clashed with police for more than four hours last night in the streets of Tel Aviv, blocking roads, smashing a few bank windows and besieging the local municipality. More than 80 were arrested in the most energetic and enraged J14 protest yet.

J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, on June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, on June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

All throughout the winter, Israelis wondered if the summer of protests would make a comeback this year, and some warned that the second time around would not be as “polite.” Last night (Saturday) thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv and proved that the struggle for social justice has not ended – and that things might be heating up this summer.

It all started on Friday afternoon, as police and municipal inspectors stopped some 500 activists from setting up a new encampment on Rothschild Boulevard, arresting protest organizer Daphni Leef and 10 others. The attack on the peaceful protest prompted an outcry on social networks, warnings of a “danger to democracy,” and calls for a demonstration Saturday night in order to “protect democracy” and to remind politicians of the movements’ unanswered demands for fair housing, education, healthcare, and other social benefits.

>> Click here for photos and a report of Friday’s violent arrests, which sparked last night’s protest >>

Some 2,000 people showed up on Rothschild at around 10 p.m. on Saturday, many of them arriving directly from a demonstration against homophobia that had taken place not far from there. Clashes with police started immediately as protestors started to move out of the boulevard, with police forbidding any kind of march. However, the masses were greater and angrier, and swarmed through the police blockade.

Over the coming four hours, the demonstration doubled in size, simultaneously blocking several main streets in Tel Aviv, including its central Ayalon highway. Demonstrators chanted slogans against the government and capitalism, against the banks and the Tel Aviv municipality that had given the order to take down the tents the day before, and in demand of social justice. At the center of Ibn Gabirol demonstrators broke several bank windows – something totally uncommon and foreign to local protests in Israel – and also besieged the municipality building.

Police officers in front of a bank whose window was smashed during a J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
Police officers in front of a bank whose window was smashed during a J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

The police was not prepared for the masses and the energy, and failed repeatedly in its attempts to open roads, eventually simply settling for protecting banks and the municipality from even worse attacks. As the hours went by, police started becoming more aggressive, eventually starting to make arrests and beat people. More than 80 were arrested by the end of the night – again, something almost unheard of in demonstrations in Tel Aviv.

Here is a video showing the protesters blocking the Ayalon highway:

At around 2 a.m., the crowd started to disperse, tired from ongoing confrontations. News of the vibrant demonstration was and still is the leading story in all the media and social networks.

J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, On June 23 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking Ayalon highway, central Tel Aviv, On June 23 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)

There’s no telling where things will go from here, with activists calling for more demonstrations in days to come, and a no-confidence vote against Tel Aviv Mayor, Ron Huldai, planned by the municipal opposition in tomorrow’s city council session. My own estimate is that things that happened last night are just the beginning, as what I witnessed in the streets is people who have lost their sense of fear. “Arrest one – a thousand more will come” was a popular slogan all through the night. If people last year sat in groups in the encampments and learned what they want and why they want it – last night was their first chance to learn firsthand how to get it while on the streets. After this, it is doubtful people will return to quiet rallies of the kind we saw last year.

J14 protest in Tel Aviv assembling in Habima Square, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protest in Tel Aviv assembling in Habima Square, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking the street in front of government office, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking the street in front of government office, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)

Video of arrests at the entrance to the Tel Aviv City Hall:

 

One of 89 J14 protesters who were arrested by police on June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
One of 89 J14 protesters who were arrested by police on June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
Protesters banging on the wall of a bank during J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
Protesters banging on the wall of a bank during J14 protest in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking a Tel Aviv junction. Sign reads "bring back the welfare state" (photo: Activestills)
J14 protesters blocking a Tel Aviv junction. Sign reads "bring back the welfare state" (photo: Activestills)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters confront police in Tel Aviv (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protester arrested, June 23, 2012. At least 89 people were detained or arrested in Tel Aviv (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protester arrested, June 23, 2012. At least 89 people were detained or arrested in Tel Aviv (photo: Activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters blocking the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
Arrested J14 protesters held by police inside a Tel Aviv bank, June 23 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
Arrested J14 protesters held by police inside a Tel Aviv bank, June 23 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report.