Daphni Leef — who last summer sparked the largest social protests in Israel’s history when she set up a tent along Rothschild Boulevard — attempted to reignite those historic protests on Friday by again setting up camp (along with hundreds of fellow protesters).

However, in stark contrast to the relatively accommodating stance police took toward the tent protests last summer, the authorities yesterday responded violently and with intentional symbolism as a mass of riot police beat and dragged Leef across the boulevard before arresting her.  They also forcefully prevented demonstrators from occupying the site where Israel’s protests began in 2011.

Saturday evening, approximately 7,000 Israelis took to the streets to protest Leef’s brutal arrest and to begin anew last summer’s massive protests which, at their peak, drew nearly 500,000 Israelis into the streets.

Israeli activists block a street in Tel Aviv during a protest on June 23, 2012.

The tone was markedly confrontational, with protesters chanting “Returning Power to the People” as they swarmed city hall, blocked one of Israel’s main highways and at times overwhelmed police, some of which were joined by elite Special Forces units.

Haaretz interviewed Barak Cohen, one of the protesters injured by police, whose anger was shared by many in the streets:

“We came to create a confrontation, not to stand across from them,” Cohen said. “You’re fighting for your life and you have to fight them, without fear. They can carry out arrests and close off streets, but they can’t affect the choices we make in our souls.”

Despite the embedded anger evident amongst segments of the protesters, many thousands marched in song, demanding economic and political justice for all Israeli citizens.

While geopolitical issues were not a focus of Saturday’s protest (as was true of last summer’s social justice protests), some carried signs and chanted about the occupation and Palestinian rights. And many observers agree that tonight’s event was much more political in nature than previous protests. (One sign read: Democracy for All, from the Jordan to the Sea.)

Whether last summer’s social justice protest movement will be reignited remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: it is Israel’s best (and perhaps only) hope for remaking the country into a more equitable and just one.

Follow the author on Twitter @David_EHG

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