A little background: Israel's student and middle classes were one of the first, last year worldwide, to begin peaceful protests for social justice and redistribution of wealth. Hundreds of thousands attended protests, erected tents and mid-street encampments to portray impossible rent prices and housing rates for students. In general, demonstrations a year ago were met by tolerant police forces and moderately attentive cabinet ministers who acted compassionately yet sparingly.
In the past few weeks hard core social justice leaders attempted to restart the protests but last year's numbers were lacking. Two protests this weekend turned into surprisingly intense riots injuring participants, provoking widespread arrests.
Dafna Talmon is a professional freelance photographer who has situated herself deep in the middle of the protests, successfully capturing the dynamics of this weekend's events:
JG: Dafna, were you part of the social Justice demonstrations last year?
DT: Yes, I am part of the Tel Aviv middle class and took part last year among the hundreds of thousands and of course took pictures.
JG: With which values in the social justice protests do you identify?
DT: As a middle class "Tel Avivian" with a day job I identify with many values, including being the used, worn down, financially eroded Israeli middle class, but I am mainly a professional photographer and it is important for me and my friends for the events to be documented – It is part of democracy.
JG: Which protest this weekend did you attend: Friday night's protest or Saturday night?
DT: Both, and took photographs in both.
JG: What occurred? Please describe what you saw.
DT: I have one word for Friday night's protest in the middle of Tel Aviv's Rothschild Avenue: Fire. Ya know how sudden a fire can break out and swirl out of control?...: That is what it felt like: One moment the protesters were in the middle of the avenue. You could feel something was up when the police forces kinda' huddled and were secretive… Suddenly it swirled out of control and police violence began out of nowhere, as well as unwarranted arrests. It was a horrible combination of police and municipal inspectors physically harassing protesters and dismantling tents. I was shooting pictures all around me 360 degrees like a sprinkler, since the events on the street were countless.
JG: And Saturday night?
DT: Saturday was different yet worse. It was supposedly an "Urgent protest" that was called for 9:00 PM as a response to Friday's arrests, including Dafne Leef's incarceration (One of the central leaders of the social justice protests last year - JG) and that as a result of the police brutality had her arm broken (and later discharged). There was no stated purpose for the rally and not that many attended. From one of the adjacent streets a different protest wandered by (Gay/Lesbian protesters had scheduled a separate march at the same time to protest recent anti-gay statements issued by right-wing members of parliament - JG). Around the same time more people showed up, more cops, and tensions were high. At 10:00 PM when the many protesters included hundreds of students, senior citizens middle aged demonstrators' and more, the unrest was visible and some of the people had a "Sit-down" on the pavement. Then things got out of hand with police attempting to arrest people for walking in the area… There were three separate "Bank incidents" I saw – the first involved knocking down a street sign near a nearby bank… The police became violent so it is unclear why or how things were destroyed, then a second bank's window was bashed in, and then another…. To me the events surrounding the banks symbolize the ongoing struggle against the ties between capital greed and the authorities, but again: My main goal was to capture the events with photography…. The police was very violent.
JG: And then what happened?
DT: I was in the center of things and then followed the events as they moved to the side streets, taking pictures, until the protest moved further to Arlozorov main street in Tel Aviv, and from there to Ayalon highway ( the main highway that crosses through Tel Aviv North-South - JG) and there they continued the protest and stopped traffic. I didn’t get that far.
JG: Do you think the protester's actions were justified.
DT: Yes, although it is unclear how justified the authorities were in lashing out the way they did.
JG: Were you alarmed or scared of the events?
DT: Yes, but not enough to stop me. I got bruised, shoved, hurt, I am black and blue…You have to understand that I must be in the center in order to do my job… and I am short and wear glasses. At times I had to take care not to be physically squashed!
JG: Do you justify the vandalism?
DT: No although it is yet to be investigated who ruined things and judging by the way the police staged things, they may be at fault…
JG: Were the goals of the protest achieved?
DT: NO! Although we have people's attention, I think we are only at the beginning of getting the social message across.
JG: Will you participate in additional marches?
DT: Yes. I feel committed to document the events as they unfold.