When Gaia Dan and Miki Perry started protesting against Israel’s siege on Gaza in October they were initially joined by several dozen other anti-Zionist Israeli Jews. “We started with 100 [protesters],” Dan said. “Now we’re lucky if we get 15.”
Based in the city of Haifa, the two women are part of a small but dedicated anti-occupation bloc, that is being aggressively targeted by Israeli authorities.
In November, Dan, 23, and Perry, 45, were beaten and arrested by Israeli police for taking part in a small and peaceful protest. “We tried to demonstrate with very, very mild, subtle messages,” said Perry, who made a placard reading “I cry for everybody” and duct-taped her mouth shut to draw attention to the limits placed on free speech in Israel. “Because we are living in a dictatorship, we have to be careful,” she said.
But watering down their messaging didn’t work. When Perry arrived at the demonstration, there were already at least eight police officers at the scene, to confront fewer than 20 protesters. “People were still trying to come to the protest, but it was over before it started,” Perry said. Police announced through a megaphone that the demonstration was illegal, accusing protesters of “violating the public peace”, and began making arrests.
Perry and Dan were beaten at the scene, before being pushed inside a police car. In the car, she and Dan were called “sluts” by an officer, who refused to let Perry access her inhaler when she feared she could have an asthma attack.
“They released us after interrogating us for two and a half hours,” said Perry. “They couldn’t keep us because they knew it was an illegal arrest.”
Israel attempts to portray Haifa as a model of coexistence – a place where Jews, Muslims and Christians live side by side in harmony. Dan says this is a lie. “How can it be a capital of coexistence if I can’t even raise a Palestinian flag?” she said. “It’s coexistence only for the Jews.”
As police often make arrests before protests even begin, Dan said the only option is to organise “flash demonstrations”, which aren’t publicised online and disperse after about 20 minutes. “It’s messed up that we need to do that,” she said, “but it’s pretty much the only way we can do protests.”
Dan and Perry organise through an anti-occupation bloc made up of Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish activists. The group came together in December 2022, initially to organise against prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul Israel’s judiciary. Since 7 October, they have been gathering in Haifa at least every Saturday as part of a larger protest organised by Zionists who continue to oppose Netanyahu and the judicial reforms. Unlike their Zionist counterparts, the anti-occupation bloc decorate their protest materials with the colours of the Palestinian flag and hold signs calling for a ceasefire – at least when they are allowed to do so.
The anti-occupation bloc is an example of what real “coexistence” looks like, activists say. Salim Abbas is a Palestinian citizen who helped to establish the bloc. “We do not forget that the occupation is the cause of all hardships and disasters,” he said. “We have to fight the same battle, because our interests serve the same goal.”
In late October, 68-year-old Yoav Haifawi, was at home with his wife when he heard noises outside. The anti-Zionist activist had attended a Palestine solidarity protest 11 days before, where he was taken alongside six other protestors to a detention centre waiting room by Israeli police and released the following day without charge. When he opened the door, a dozen police officers stormed in with a “search order signed by a judge” he said.
Police pointed guns at Haifawi and his wife while they ransacked their home, seizing and photographing “incriminating” materials: Palestinian flags and posters calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners. Haifawi, who has a chronic health condition, was arrested and then taken to a hospital, where he was detained.
“[During my court hearing] Israeli police requested my arrest for ‘behaviour that might disturb public order’,” he said. “They had a problem because according to the law, behaviour that disturbs public order is something that happens in a public space [and] they’d found these materials in my home.” A judge reviewed the case and ordered that Haifawi be released without charge.
Before 7 October, Haifawi had been arrested dozens of times for his pro-Palestine activism and Israeli authorities had searched his house on five occasions. He stresses that the current crackdown on protest is not entirely new. But what is different now, he said, is the total refusal by Israeli forces to permit any kind of protest that isn’t in support of Israel’s war. “Generally, it was possible to demonstrate [before]. But not since 7 October,” he said. Still, this hasn’t deterred Haifawi. “For me, the risk is smaller than for many other people [especially Palestinians],” he said. “So I don’t think my sacrifice is too big.”
Israeli Jews speaking out against Israel’s siege on Gaza are a tiny minority. Even as global public opinion on Israel’s offensive on Gaza has started to sour, the vast majority of Israelis across the political spectrum support the war. A poll published earlier this week by Israel Democracy Institute showed that 75% of Jewish Israelis reject the US’s demand “that Israel shifts to a different phase of the war in Gaza, with an emphasis on reducing the heavy bombing of densely populated areas”.
“It’s very scary to think that pretty much everyone I know is supporting a massacre,” said Dan. Perry said that during demonstrations, the anti-occupation bloc regularly faces abuse from Israeli civilians. “People call me a traitor, and say I wish that you’d die, I wish you’d go to Gaza and get bombed, I hope your children get kidnapped.”
Despite this, Dan and Perry say they will continue to protest every Saturday with the bloc. “I hear the aeroplanes on the way to Gaza, and I can hear by the sound of the aeroplane how heavy the bombs are. I hear them and I know that in a few minutes, children and innocent people are going to die,” Perry said. “We cannot be silent while this massacre is happening […] they’re killing people in my name.”