Israel Police said on Sunday morning that they had arrested at least three people for assaulting anti-government protesters as thousands demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence, calling for his resignation over his corruption charges and what they call a faulty handling of the coronavirus crisis.
On Saturday, over five thousand protesters massed in front of Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street, which has become the epicenter of the protest movement. They were forcefully dispersed by police in the early hours of Sunday, using water cannons and mounted units.
Police said that a Netanyahu supporter was detained for spraying mace at a protester in central Israel. The 34-year-old man from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan remained in custody overnight and police said they will be asking to extend his detention on Sunday.
During the police interrogation, the man confessed and regretted the act, although he said he actually used window cleaning liquid rather than pepper spray. His motivation was anger about the damage to the country’s symbols, he said, adding that he had been influenced by the incitement that exists on social networks
Another counter-protester was arrested on suspicion of stabbing an anti-government demonstrator in the neck at the Sha’ar HaNegev junction in southern Israel. The police said they would ask that he remain in custody, adding that they are working to bring to justice those who were also involved in the incident.
A third person was also arrested in Jerusalem, and five others detained on suspicion of attacking a demonstrator on Lincoln Street, near the prime minister’s official residence. According to eyewitnesses, the attack was carried out by five men with a helmet and a glass bottle.
In addition, police said that 12 anti-Netanyahu protesters had been arrested overnight for “various offences related to disturbing the peace.” Protests were also held in Caesarea in front of Netanyahu’s private home, and at some 250 intersections throughout the country. One man was also detained for tearing up protesters’ signs in Caesarea.
A group of some 20 right-wing activists participated in a counter-protest nearby, raising concerns of further clashes between anti- and pro-Netanyahu groups. On Thursday, a counter-protest by Netanyahu supporters drew some 200 Likud activists nearby, joined by a few dozen members of La Familia, an extremist organization of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team. Six ant-Netanyahu demonstrators said they were violently assaulted by members of La Familia.
According to eyewitnesses, a demonstrator wearing a pink bandana was attacked by five men dressed in black on Lincoln Street, Jerusalem. The witnesses reported that the five beat him with a helmet and smashed a glass bottle on his body. An eyewitness at the scene called the police.
Meanwhile, two other anti-Netanyahu protesters testified that they were attacked by three right-wing activists after they left the demonstration. According to one of them, “Three young men asked my friend: ’Are you [with] Bibi or against Bibi?’ He didn’t answer, and then one of them started beating him. Then he came in front of me and punched me in the face and threw my glasses down the road.”
’It’s important for him to be there’
The protesters that were attacked in junctions in central and southern Israel both recount being there with children, and being attacked without provocation.
at the Sha’ar HaNegev junction in Nir Am, in southern Israel said they were attacked by at least ten people
Nir Sa’ar, the man who was stabbed in the neck, said he was participating in a peaceful demonstration with several friends and their families, including children, when five vehicles arrived. Sa’ar said that about 15 men disembarked and began to encircle them.
They arrived “to make chaos, they came down and started to tear posters,” and beat and spit at protesters, says fellow protester Ishai Loz. “They took out some sort of sharp object. We tried to just get the kids out of there. My friend was stabbed in the neck. I took a blow to my chest, a little cut, and I’m getting an X-ray now.” According to Loz, the same group threw punches as well.
K. was protesting with his son and a few friends at the Aluf Sadeh interchange in central Israel. “My son asked to stay and stand close to the road with his friends and their parents,” he told Haaretz. “All of a sudden, a car passed and sprayed gas towards him and his group of kids,” he said.
“[The car] slowed down, opened the window, sprayed, and hurried away. There were police, but they didn’t manage to catch the car... The brave kid, he understands what happened there. This is his second protest there, it’s important to him to go,” he added.
Netanyahu blasts ’anarchist’ and ’Bolshevik’ media
In a Facebook post, Netanyahu accused Channel 12 News of inflating the number of attendees of the protests against him in its reporting, calling it a “Shameless propaganda arm of the anarchist left to bring down the right-wing government and its leader.”
He went on to write that the channel is pouring fire on the flames of the “Political protests that are organized and funded by leftist groups. [It’s] fake news on steroids.” He continued, “Almost all their programs, segments and analyses are used for unbridled Bolshevik propaganda against the prime minister.”
“And of course, they don’t even say one word on the blatant threats to murder the prime minister and his family,” the prime minister added.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Saturday night that the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must be limited. “We need to restrict the number of people, the location, maybe in a more open space,” Ohana told Channel 12’s Meet the Press program.
“The Health Ministry said that this is a coronavirus incubator. If all the experts are saying that this hurts our efforts against the coronavirus, then we must limit it,” he said.
His remarks come after it was reported that Ohana asked the police to examine the possibility of requiring protests held outside Netanyahu’s official residence to move to another venue, arguing that these events are harming the neighbors.
Police representatives cited a Supreme Court ruling and told Ohana it wasn’t possible to prevent a protest from taking place or to require a license for it.
Protests gain pace
This marks the fifth week of the “black flag” protests, which call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down in light of his criminal indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This particular wave of demonstrations began after the arrest of protest leader Amir Haskel.
The protests were organized by multiple movements calling for economic relief and Netanyahu’s resignation: the Black Flags, Crime Minister, Culture Shock, Wake Up Israel and a number of new groups. These include the Women’s March, which was established over the past few years in Tel Aviv, and a number of LGBTQ activists, including the gay party line Cock Shock.
Another central protest site is Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park, where a number of organizations are protesting the economic crisis. The protest is being held under the banner “Shaking them from their chairs,” and the organizers explained that they do not intend to take aim at the prime minister alone, and that they want the demonstration to remain apolitical.
“The protest is socio-economic, where there will be shouts and roars to fix the conduct toward Israeli citizens. They will come to sound the cries of the nation,” the organizers said.
Ahead of Saturday night’s protest, the organizers posted a call to police to behave with restraint. “We hope that contrary to previous demonstrations, in which the police did not allow protesters to disperse and exacted useless and unruly violence against them, which injured dozens of people, tonight the police will conduct itself responsibly.”
The statement sought to remind the Israel Police that “it is your duty to defend your citizens, not to fill arrest quotas… We will on our part continue to fulfill our role: To throng the streets with beautiful, hopeful citizens who are unwilling to remain silent any longer.”
Violence and arrests
On Friday, a one thousand-strong demonstration took place in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Over the weekend, another group of protesters set up camp at the city’s Independence Park, which is located near Balfour Street. The group, which goes by the name FestiBalfour sought to establish a permanent camp that would support the protest and act as its cultural hub.
Police sought to evacuate members of the group from the park following Thursday’s demonstration, but they later returned and remained there over the weekend.
Some 4,000 people protested in Jerusalem on Thursday, calling on Netanyahu to resign over his corruption charges, handling of the coronavirus crisis and allegedly anti-democratic measures.
This is the eighth protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in two weeks. As of Saturday evening, 160 protesters were arrested during demonstrations, 55 of them on Thursday night. Thirty-five of them were released on the condition that they keep their distance from Jerusalem’s Paris Square and the residence, and 19 more were brought before a judge to be released with similar restraining orders.
Two were released unconditionally, one of whom after he showed the judge a video of his arrest in which he did not resist, countering the police’s claims. Another protester was sentenced to house arrest until Sunday, on suspicion of attacking an officer.
Also Thursday, Caesarea residents reported that security protocols around Netanyahu’s private house had changed: A fence was erected behind the homes on the street, and temporary barriers were put up that would allow security forces to close off the street.
An activist who claimed he was walking on the house’s street was stopped by police Saturday afternoon. Police said he had entered “a sterile area” and that they had requested he leave a number of times, and only stopped him when he refused to do so.
The activist, Gil Solomon of Caesarea, told Haaretz that he is still “trying to understand why they stopped me.” He added, “In the beginning, the security guard told me that these are the instructions of the government. After I began to question it a little bit, a police officer told me that it was the Shin Bet’s instructions.”
He continued, “At the police station, when they questioned me, they told me that I was stopped on suspicion of bothering the police officer while he was fulfilling his duties. The officer wasn’t there when the argument happened. [The security guards] called for him. How did I get in the way of him carrying out his duty? He was literally carrying out his duty.”
The Black Flags protest movement said: "This evening is a sharp and clear message to the convict Netanyahu that his time is up. This week, we received proof as to what the Netanyahu regime is: weakening the Knesset and democracy, suppressing the protest, incitement against broad segments of the nation, dealing with criminal matters and an endless campaign of lies.
“The complete failure to deal with the coronavirus is on the convict alone. The citizens of the country deserve a prime minister who deals from morning until night with stopping the pandemic and rehabilitating the economy – not a convict who only looks out for himself.”