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The fascists wanted to murder us: An eyewitness account of Haifa’s anti-war protest

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Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestnians living in Israel and left wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in down town Haifa, July 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli policemen arrest protesters as Palestnians living in Israel and left wing activists protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza in down town Haifa, July 18, 2014. (Photo: Activestills.org)

Editor’s note: The following account of this weekend’s violence in Haifa was first published on the author’s Facebook page. 

I’m going to try to write up what I saw, heard, and experienced at the anti-war demonstration in the Carmel Center, Haifa on Saturday, July 19th2014. This was a difficult and traumatizing experience, one of the worst I have faced in over a decade of activism. Please forgive rough writing. This is my point of view, and as such, is clouded. I can only write what I saw and experienced. All times are approximate.

9pm, opposite Ha’Agala Burekas restaurant, Moria Ave, Haifa: my partner and I are in my parents’ car, heading to the demonstration that is supposed to start at this location at 9:30. As we drive up, we see a huge police presence, including armored horses, a water canon, and hundreds of police. Getting closer, we see what they’re there for: over a thousand right wing counter-protestors have showed up, chanting,waving Israeli and army flags, calling the left ‘traitors’.

9:05pm: We call the organizers, in a half-panic. We’re told that the demo has been moved a few hundred yards down the street, nearer the Carmel Center. As we’re walking, I see a policeman shoving a man with a sign supporting the left. He’s bleeding. We later find out he was punched in the face by one of the right wingers.

9:10pm, at the entrance to the Kababir neighborhood, Moria Ave:we arrive at the new site for the demonstration. We’re practically alone with a ton of heavily armored police. At this stage, it seems utterly irresponsible to encourage people to march. Being outnumbered doesn’t begin to describe the situation we were in. We head off to a nearby restaurant for a few minutes.

9:20pm:People are trickling in. I walk around, trying to explain to folks there what I saw down the street (most people came from a different direction). I’ve been an activist for many years, and have attended hundreds of demonstrations. From experience, we can deal with the police, almost no matter what they do. We can’t deal with huge numbers violent counter-demonstrators out to kill us. A sense of bewilderment seems to be the dominant theme.

9:25pm:The main organizers ask us to move people into the adjacent park. I ask people to do so, and for the most part, they do. At this point,many counter-demonstrators have moved to stand opposite us, and are being held back by the police. Chants of “Death to Arabs”,“Death to traitors”, “Death to leftists” come from the other side of the street. Their numbers are swelling, fast.

9:30pm:We’re asked to move back onto the sidewalk from the park, as the police say they cannot protect us in the park. With all that’s going on, much of this gets lost.

9:45pm:Our side is swelling, but the other side is swelling faster. There are supposed to be buses arriving from other parts of the country. We chant slogans for unity: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”;“Both in Gaza and in Sderot, children want to live”; “Peace isn’t built on childrens’ bodies”; “Gaza, stand strong, we’ll end the Occupation yet”; and many more. Banners are raised. Red flags and Palestinians flags are waving. The other side is jumping up and down, singing nationalist songs, waving Israeli and army brigade flags, all the time pushing against the police line. Our side does not at all push against the police. There’s no point: if the line were to be broken, we’d be facing a raving mob head on.

10pm:Buses should be arriving from other parts of the country. They do not. We get word that the police has blocked buses of our supporters from coming.

10:05pm:One bus arrives, barely. It takes a long few minutes for the police to get the bus through the right wing folks. When they pull up, I go over to greet them. Turns out it was a bus from Nazareth. Our ranks are swelled a bit more. Still, we’re outnumbered, by a long shot.

Over the next thirty minutes or so, one more bus arrives. We found out much later that four buses were blocked completely by the police.

10:45pm:By now, a few small scuffles have broken out between police and the counter-demonstrators. A couple of them are arrested. Chanting keeps up on both sides. We shout for life, they shout for death. I stay as close to the front as I can, right up to the police line. Tempers flare here and there.

As a Jewish Israeli, it’s very very difficult for me to even consider trying to hold back Arab protesters. It isn’t my place. They have so much more to be angry about than I do. Our privilege, being identified by the state as being Jewish, is huge. Yet I seem to have taken on a role of responsibility, together with my Arab friends. This is a tough paragraph to write. I don’t want to appear arrogant. Yet it seemed at the time that all our efforts were appreciated by those trying to keep others from getting badly hurt.

10:50pm:A couple of demonstrators from our side get snatched by police and arrested, violently. Looking across the street, I see murder gleaming in the eyes of the fascists. I don’t use that word lightly,but when a huge gang is quite literally calling for us to be killed,it’s appropriate, I think.

Much later, we find out that a few of our folks found themselves attacked by the right. One broken nose, one broken shoulder. Maybe more.

A few bottles are thrown on us. Nothing much, at least not compared to what was to come later.

11pm:Someone decides to move into the neighborhood, away from the main street. People are terrified, as the counter-demonstrators are still swelling and getting closer. In principle, this should be the end of the demonstration. The police allow some of the counter-demonstrators across the street, near the bus. Other police try to herd some of our side onto the bus. The bus is headed back to another town. Police barely manage to get it out.

11:20pm:We’re trying to disperse. Outside of the West Bank, where protests are suppressed with heavy crowd-control measures, I’ve never been to a  demonstration where the hardest part is leaving. A group of folks from Tel Aviv ask us to help them, to take them through the backstreets to where their bus is. They can’t find all their people. We stand with them in a courtyard, with people trying to get through the back the building. Suddenly, they come running back, shouting that the rightists are coming from behind. Across the narrow side street,many of them have moved opposite us, shouting and gesturing. Police are barely to be seen.

11:30pm:We move to the corner of the next street. There are around 100 of us left at this point, as many somehow managed to escape, perhaps on a bus, perhaps in small groups on foot. We can’t tell. My partner and I agree that we’re not leaving until everyone is safe. All three opposite corners, and quite a way down the streets, are covered with our opposition. It’s a terrifying scene. We’re surrounded. Police are hanging out in the middle, looking utterly clueless. Their horses and heavy machinery are nowhere to be seen. For only the second time in my life, I’m wishing for police protection.

11:40pm:Stones start flying toward us. Not many, but large. We have older folks with us, some over 70. We use the sticks holding our flags to try to deflect the stones like baseballs. A few hit people. People are bleeding. Police look almost as scared as we are, and still,they do almost nothing to help us get the hell out. They have helmets. Needless to say, we do not.

This doesn’t stop. We chant those same slogans for unity: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”. It seems so damn empty at this point,facing hundreds of Zionist Jews who want to see us dead. Not in jail. Dead.

I talk to a few people. The word ‘pogrom’ starts being whispered. These are highly experienced folks, for the most part,who do not use such words lightly.

Midnight:A policeman tells us to stand back. In his words “there is going to be a mess here”. A water cannon shows up. Armored police horses show up. I find myself almost relieved. When the water cannon is shot right atone of the bunches of right wingers, a cheer goes up from our side. Myself and few others shout at them to stay quiet: “We do NOT cheer police, ever!”

More stones. More chants for murder. We’re still trapped. A few people try to push out to escape the hell we’re in. They are pushed back by police and counter-demonstrators.

12:15am, July20th: The police try to get us out. People are throwing stones at us. Again, not many,but they’re coming from all sides, including the buildings we’re passing by. Police run into building entrances, pushing back those trying to attack us. They’re barely successful.

I hear shouts and run toward them. I see one of our people on the ground, bleeding from his head. Police try to push us forward. A couple of us tell them, trying to be calm, that we have some one injured. A policeman says “fine, leave him there”. We do nothing of the sort. We pick him up. He’s ok, somehow. Adrenaline,I suppose.

12:30am:We’re still half walking, half running down the street, surrounded by police. It’s a bit calmer, but the counter-demonstrators (perhaps,by now, rioters) are still not far behind us. We find ourselves at a traffic circle. Two police commanders are arguing about what to do. All we want is to get a bus. They keep changing up where they want the bus to be. I overhear one commander telling the other that there are another hundred rightists coming down the street. They do not know what to do. They order us further down the hill.

12:35am:The sidewalk ends on our side. Police tell us to get into the shadows. I hear one of them ordering a bus sent to us, empty, asfast as possible. Nothing happens, everyone is exhausted. They seem to holding back the counter-demonstrators up the street.

12:45am:A public bus is passing by with around six people aboard. Police stop the bus, tell everyone on it to leave, and shout at us to get on. We can’t believe this: the police have literally commandeered a bus. It takes a while, but we all get on. Eighty people packed like sardines onto a bus that holds fifty. The bus moves up the hill to turn around. As it does, it’s hit with a rock thrown at it.

12:50am:We start singing. People sing and laugh as the adrenaline starts to decline. We feel safe, for the first time in hours.

1am: As we head toward the shore, where another bus is waiting for us, a car covered with an Israeli flag pulls up. The driver shouts and gestures at us. This is our first hint that it’s not over yet. Some still feel safe enough to flash V for victory signs at him.

1:05am:We pull into the parking lot behind the beach restaurant, Maxim. We get off the bus. We wonder where the next bus will take us. One of the organizers tells us to get on, and we’ll sort that out later. The water cannon truck pulls in behind us, with a number of police vans.

1:15am:We’re on the bus, and we’re moving out of the parking lot. The police accompaniment leaves. We’re alone. Suddenly,we hear two or three rocks hitting the bus. Two windows are shattered. We push the broken glass out onto the street to avoid the pieces flying in due to wind and hitting passengers. The broken windows make the bus windy, full of fresh air. We’re tense, but we’re safe.

1:20am:The bus pulls up near the Haifa headquarters of the Hadash party, one of the main organizers. As we disembark, we take photos of the youth making victory signs out the broken windows. We’re safe.

1:30am:We go to headquarters to debrief, post reports, and decide on next steps. At some point later, my partner and I go get some food and drinks for ourselves and our friends.

2:30am:We head to the police station to wait for the eight arrested to be released. A somewhat surreal scene occurs when we encounter a demonstrator from the other side, doing the same. No tempers flare.

4:30am:After two hours of waiting, talking, trying to understand what happened and why, our prisoners are released unconditionally. We applaud.

We go home. We sleep.

We were lucky: one stone an inch to one side or another, and someone would have died. Quite a few people were injured. One broken nose; one shattered shoulder. One demonstrator hit in the head by police. Who knows what else?

We live to fight another day.

Rann Bar-On

Rann Bar-On is an Israeli peace activist and a lecturer in mathematics at Duke University.

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23 Responses

  1. just on July 21, 2014, 4:27 pm

    This is frightening/dangerous for the victims, but for this safe reader not at all unexpected/surprising after the incitement by the “leaders” of Israel.

    Israel is cannibalizing anyone who doesn’t toe the Zio line. Fascism.

  2. Kay24 on July 21, 2014, 4:34 pm

    This brutality is unbelievable. One might expect such ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and disregard for human rights, from the third world tyrant.
    It seems the zios have forgotten the terror that was unleashed on them by the nazis, and are using similar tactics on unarmed civilians.
    All this to keep the brutal occupation, ethnic cleansing, and theft of Palestinian resources going.

  3. jenin on July 21, 2014, 4:36 pm

    My friend was at a protest in Nazareth today. Tear gas was released and shots were fired, as well as the intimidation from Zionists. She was very shaken after the experience.

    I myself have had a rather disturbing experience today. My boyfriend had posted last week an article about the 4 boys on the beach on his facebook feed. Apparently a facebook friend of his found this “provocative,” and today started posting on my boyfriend’s timeline, videos of Palestinian “terrorists” and writing, “this must be Jenin’s family,” and additionally posting it on other parts of the web. This person has never met me, had any contact with me, or knows anything about me other than that my dad is Palestinian and his family is still in the West Bank It’s a rather shocking experience to have someone saying such things to you based solely on your ethnic background.

    At the same time, he was writing on my boyfriend’s post, “everyone hates us Jews” “you Goyim can’t understand,” “it’s our land forever, we’ll never go anywhere.” it’s insane to me that someone can be so openly racist, and then try to claim that he is persecuted simply because others express concern for the human rights of Palestinians. What a world we live in. I try to remain optimistic but it’s hard.

    • just on July 21, 2014, 5:19 pm

      Do remain hopeful, Jenin.

      Without going into it, I’ve experienced much the same here and elsewhere. So many are seriously (sometimes willfully) ignorant– I am sorry, but that’s the truth. Many don’t know world history, current events, other languages, geography, or “others”.

      That ignorance turns into bigotry and fear of “others”, which left unchecked can become…well, something akin to the above story.

      It’s why this entire post 911 thing with “terrorism”, “jihad”, Islamophobia worked so well on ignorant people…and boy, did the creators/authors/purveyors of this strike pay dirt!

      You know who you are and where you came from. Be proud of that. A change is gonna come, I promise.

      (I stay far and away from FB, much to many loved ones’ dismay– I just don’t think it’s worth it)

      • jenin on July 21, 2014, 7:18 pm

        just–thanks for the encouragement and support. Ignorance is definitely the problem. I keep wanting to leave facebook–and this harassment made me really think about it — but I don’t want to lose the opportunity to influence those who simply do not know.

    • Marnie on July 22, 2014, 5:06 am

      I’m sorry, too much cruelty and not enough kindness.

  4. Jon66 on July 21, 2014, 4:44 pm

    I’m sorry you had to go through that. Opinions should not be met with violence. I am always amazed by the number of people who think that stone throwing is an acceptable form of voicing one’s opinion.
    As you said, stones can kill.
    Stone throwing is not a form of peaceful protest.

    If it were up to me I would jail these and any other stone throwers on battery charges.

    • RoHa on July 21, 2014, 7:23 pm

      Even if they are throwing stones as women who are singing?

    • Marnie on July 22, 2014, 5:08 am

      You should have stopped after the first sentence.

  5. Shingo on July 21, 2014, 5:42 pm

    Cue MY1 to tell us this never happened and that brotherly love was felt by all and the call for peace was sung in unity.

    • MahaneYehude1 on July 21, 2014, 6:10 pm

      @shingo:

      Cue MY1 to tell us this never happened and that brotherly love was felt by all and the call for peace was sung in unity.

      No, I won’t tell you this never happened, but since you called me, I can tell you that the Palestinian community leaders in Haifa were against those protesters. The same occurred in Nazareth.

      • AaronAarons on July 23, 2014, 9:28 am

        Are the “Palestinian community leaders” you claim to be channeling, presuming they exist at all, leaders of Palestinian resistance to Zionist oppression or leaders of the Palestinian equivalent of the Judenräte in occupied Europe? Please provide citations!

  6. David Doppler on July 21, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Their hatred is valuable in its ugliness, because ordinary people will see it and recoil from it, turn against it, realize something must be done. Even some of those swept up in the angry crowd will live to regret it, experience a change of viewpoint. Thank you for having the courage to endure it, and to Mondoweiss for its intrepid reporting.

  7. Palikari on July 21, 2014, 7:51 pm

    Where were you when Hamas fired more than 1700 rockets against Israeli civilians? Some of them targeted Dimona’s nuclear facility, with the aim of provoking a nuclear disaster. Where were you then?

    But you only demonstrate when Israel defends itself. Hypocrite!

    • jenin on July 21, 2014, 8:15 pm

      Where were you when over 500 Palestinians were killed, most of them innocents, including children? Hypocrite!

    • Shingo on July 21, 2014, 8:44 pm

      Where were you when Hamas fired more than 1700 rockets against Israeli civilians?

      Israel starred this conflict. Hamas were defending themselves. Dimona’s nuclear facility is a legitimate military target.

      Israel us not defending itself it is the aggressor. They started this conflict to try and sabotage the unity agreement.

      Once you start a fight, you forgo any claim of self defense, in spite of Israel’s efforts to rewrite the timeline of events which led to this.

      Lying Ignoramus

    • eljay on July 21, 2014, 8:58 pm

      >> Palikareee: Where were you when Hamas fired more than 1700 rockets against Israeli civilians? … Where were you then? But you only demonstrate when Israel defends itself. Hypocrite!

      Where were you when Zio-supremacist Jews stole occupied and colonized Palestinian land and ethnically cleansed Palestinians from it so that they could establish a supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel in Palestine?

      Where have you been when, for the past 60+ years and up to this very day, Israel has continued to steal, occupy and colonize Palestinian land, and to oppress, torture and kill Palestinians?

      But you only care when the Palestinians defend themselves. Hypocrite!

    • Bumblebye on July 21, 2014, 8:59 pm

      Hey, Palikaka,
      Where have you been hiding while your idf has fired twice as many bombs onto Palestinian civilians, with several thousand times the explosive power?
      Where were you during the weeks before, when the idf targeted some 50 sites in Gaza with their bombs, while Hamas did not fire back? Only the smaller factions did. Hamas didn’t protect then from the repercussions. Their rockets only started *after* the idf bombed one of their tunnels, killing several Hamas personnel.
      And where is your voice decrying the wanton slaughter the idf is quite deliberately inflicting on Gaza’s civilian population? Have you watched the video of the very clearly unarmed youth being murdered by one of yours during the ceasefire? Or is he one less to breed more of the same?

    • Marnie on July 22, 2014, 5:12 am

      Where were you when they built the Dimona facility and then lied to the world about its existence. You’re only worried about it now? It’s a provocation from one of the world’s biggest hypocrites and provocateurs.

      • Shingo on July 23, 2014, 2:18 am

        Where were you when they built the Dimona facility and then lied to the world about its existence. You’re only worried about it now?

        Very good point Marnie.

        According to Israel, Dimona is officially a textile factory. And if Israel says it, it must be true, unless Palikari is suggestion the government of Israel lies.

      • Marnie on July 23, 2014, 11:47 am

        Aw shucks, they don’t lie, they just live in an alternate universe where they are always right, everyone else is always wrong, down is up, light is dark, 2 +2 = 5, etc., etc., etc.

    • Ron Edwards on July 22, 2014, 10:49 am

      Palikari: “nuclear facility” … do please unpack that for yourself.

  8. michelle on July 21, 2014, 9:31 pm

    .
    true ‘brother’hood
    forged by truth
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

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