By Yoav Haifawi / Mondoweiss
On October 18, after the massacre in the Gaza Baptist Hospital, Herak Haifa called for a demonstration.1 The police announced in advance to the Hebrew media that it would not allow any demonstration against the war and would act “forcefully.” At the designated time, I arrived at “Prisoners Square” with a few banners wrapped under my arm. Before I arrived there, I noticed that the police were deployed all along the German Colony. In the square itself, there were more than a hundred police.
I sat quietly on a concrete railing on the side of the road, between the police and a big group of journalists that came to cover the action, the banners rolled between my legs. As the police were distracted, I quietly half-opened the rolled banners, and all the journalists took the opportunity to take quick pictures of the top banner. It said “It Is Genocide!” in English.
One woman came to sit near me and took the first banner, still half-rolled. A second one half-appeared: “Stop the Fire Now!” in Hebrew. It was only seconds before the two of us were violently carried away by police. A third man who shouted “why are you doing this?” was also violently detained.
About one hundred people came to the demonstration. They did not dare to enter the square, did not carry any banners, and did not dare to shout any slogans. But they were attacked anyway by the police, which ordered them to disperse. Many people were hit and injured by police violence; two women were seriously injured and required treatment at the hospital. The non-demonstrating public tried to stand their ground, withdrawing a few meters with every attack. When they tried to sing together, they were quickly silenced by an especially violent attack. One woman who shouted at the police “We are not afraid,” was promptly violently detained. A Palestinian journalist who was taking pictures of police violence was also detained. The one-sided confrontation continued for almost two hours before the crowd dispersed.
Another woman, a Palestinian doctor, was on her way to Haifa when police stopped her car on the highway some 10 kilometers away. She was accused of intending to join the Herak demonstration but denied the accusation. She was detained anyway, leaving the car on the shoulder of the road.
The six of us, four women and two men, were interrogated by the Haifa police until 1:00 a.m., and spent the night there in the detention cells. In the morning, we were told that we would be taken “to the court,” but we were taken to the Jelemeh (Kishon) detention center instead. We learned that, because of the “emergency situation,” we would not appear in the court physically but only attend by Skype. The police requested to remand our detention by five days. The judge decided that, despite serious suspicions against us, we could be released on bail.
On the same night, October 18, police also dispersed a vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the Palestinian town of Tayibe, near Tel Aviv. They attacked the protesters, beating them with batons. One protester was hospitalized, and two were detained.
A demonstration in Umm al-Fahm
The only anti-war demonstration I know about within the green line, which is supposed to mark the boundaries of “democratic Israel,” in the first 20 days of “the special situation” was held in Umm al-Fahm on Thursday, October 19. Umm al-Fahm is a densely populated, hilly Palestinian town with a great tradition of struggle, and the police usually do not intervene in whatever happens inside its inner streets.
Herak Umm al-Fahm is bigger than Herak Haifa and more deeply rooted, and it initially called for a demonstration on October 17. But, following the call, the Shabak threatened the central activists of the Herak, and they called off the demonstration. The invitation for October 19 was published under the name of a previously unknown “Herak for Gaza.”
The demonstrators gathered at the designated point, and, as they noted heavy police presence around the city, they confined themselves to marching through its thin alleys. Hundreds of people joined the march, expressing their anger at the Israeli attacks and their solidarity with the people of Gaza, but taking care not to use any expressions that might be labeled illegal.
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Just as they finished the march and one of the organizers congratulated everybody for participating in a peaceful demonstration without any disturbances, they were suddenly surrounded from all sides by a phalanx of riot police and “border guards” that violently attacked them without any warning. Twelve people were arrested in this attack, including a Palestinian journalist.
On Friday morning, we waited for the detainees in the Haifa court. In fact, we knew that the detainees would not be brought to the court, but we waited with their families and lawyers for the remand hearing. The detainees were held in the Megiddo prison, which is mostly used for “security detainees” from the West Bank, many of them under administrative detention, but it is now filling up fast with a wave of freedom-of-expression detainees from 1948 Palestine.
The prison guards in Megiddo failed to activate the Skype application to enable the detainees to “attend” the hearing until 3:00 p.m.. The judge suggested holding the hearings on WhatsApp, but the defense lawyers refused, explaining, among other reasons, that they wanted the judge to see the signs of beating on the faces and bodies of the detainees. At 3:30, the judge announced that, as Holy Saturday was nearing, she remanded everybody’s detention, without any hearing, until Saturday night.
Both Herak Umm al-Fahm and Herak Haifa called on their supporters to come to the Haifa court on Saturday night to support the detainees’ families. It was not a demonstration but a strong expression of solidarity, with about two hundred people gathering around the court for hours. Only two people from the family of each detainee were allowed in.
The hearing finally started at around 1:00 a.m. on Sunday. After long deliberations, all but two of the detainees were released on bail. Two of the detainees that the police regarded as “organizers,” a lawyer and a doctor, were charged with “support for terrorism,” even though the police itself could not specify any specific action or pronunciation that expressed this support. Their detention was remanded on Sunday morning and remanded again on Wednesday, October 25.
On Sunday morning, at 5:55 a.m., after the hearing finished, we gathered at the court’s entrance, about thirty of us who had endured the long sleepless night, to thank and applaud our legal team. The team that fought through the whole night was led by advocate Hassan Jabarin, the head of Adalah Center, and included some 20 lawyers and assistants from Adalah and several other associations, as well as volunteers. When the court guards noticed us converging on the entrance, they summoned a reinforcement of armed police.
Women in Black vigil dispersed
Women in Black in Haifa have been holding an “anti-occupation” vigil every Friday, for as long as I can remember, maybe 40 years or more. On Friday, October 13, as there was no other way to express my opposition to the war, I joined them. We stood there quietly on the Bahai Circle in the German Colony, some 20 of us, mostly older Jewish women. I held a banner saying “No to revenge, For prisoners exchange,” which was about the most radical choice available.
Soon, the police came and explained that “because of the situation,” no political demonstrations were allowed. When the organizers tried to argue with them, they simply forcefully took the banners from our hands and confiscated them along with the banners lying on the ground. As we sat there without banners, the police demanded that we disperse. We defiantly stayed, and they finally withdrew and guarded us from the other side of the street until we completed the full hour that was designated for the vigil.
For the coming weeks, the organizers requested we limit the content on the banners, so as not to provoke the Jewish public or the police, to only two slogans:
- First of all, a prisoner exchange
- Haifa – the home of all of us, Jews and Arabs
Without calling for, at least, a ceasefire, it seemed pointless to me.
An Arab-Jewish meeting against the war
The High Follow-Up Committee of the Arab public, which unites all political parties representing 1948 Palestinians, tried to take the initiative to forge unity with Jewish activists against the war. They called for a public meeting in a closed hall in Haifa that was to take place on Thursday, October 26. In their call they lamented the suffering of civilians on both sides of the Gaza border.
Yet, today, it was announced that even this activity was to be prevented by the police. Apparently, for lack of any legal grounds, the police found the “soft point” among the owners of the hall where the meeting had to be held. They threatened them that if the meeting took place, they would close their hall for a long time.
There is very little Palestinian, democratic, or pro-peace political activity right now within the green line. But the detention centers are filling up fast with people who are persecuted for any, or no, reason. Itamar Ben-Gvir is fast mobilizing and arming hundreds of local militias to serve as vigilantes to supervise any Palestinian dissent. Fascist mobs are hunting dissidents on social media, and sometimes in the streets.
I hope to stay free and safe so I can report more of it.
When the last Netanyahu – Ben-Gvir government was established, they proudly labeled themselves a Full-Right government. Now, with full public unity between all Zionist parties for the destruction of Gaza, they can be proud of a much bigger achievement, converting Israel to a Full-Dictatorship.
1. The word “Herak” is derived from the word “haraka” meaning “movement.” The word started getting used in political contexts around 20 years ago and took on popularity during the Arab Spring. Unlike traditional political movements, which imply organization and official leadership, “Herak” connotes something more open and relates more to the action itself than to the formal organization. So, the name “Herak Haifa” is somewhere between “Haifa Movement” and “Haifa Action.”