Dozens of people were arrested late Thursday and early Friday as police deployed water cannons against protesters urging the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside of his residence in Jerusalem.
The protest drew thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis and other ills to the capital’s Paris Square Thursday evening, the latest in a series of rallies that have ratcheted pressure on Netanyahu and his governing coalition.
Police said 55 demonstrators were arrested or detained as officers attempted to clear the area.
Officers sprayed protesters with high-pressure water cannons in a bid to move people off the streets after midnight. Some protesters who were peacefully dispersing were shot in the back by the water cannons, and activists said police left them with nowhere to go.
“We left the protest quietly, without violence… They told us we couldn’t disperse on the sidewalk, nor in the park. We headed down the street, but apparently not fast enough for them. They started spraying us from behind,” Dekel, a demonstrator, told The Times of Israel.
Some protesters crouched behind trees and cars for shelter, while others attempting to exit the scene were hit by water cannons as they went towards HeMekhes Square.> Israeli Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 23, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
In an attempt to escape the water, some demonstrators entered Independence Park, where mounted police moved at them in an attempt to force them to stay in the road. Protesters who remained on the road, however, were drenched by the water cannons roaming up and down Agron Street, which bounds the park on one side.
“I live here, and they won’t let me get to my home,” said Miel, 23. She was told to take a roundabout way home and was then hit by the water cannons anyway. She has been to previous protests, but told The Times of Israel that she did not remember such an extensive use of water cannons at those.
Dozens of officers eventually marched into Independence Park, dragging out individual protesters and arresting them before allowing the last clusters of huddling demonstrators to leave the scene.> Israeli Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
“Despite the legitimate protest by many participants, who dispersed on their own, protesters [remained] who refused to disperse after police declared several times that the demonstration had ended and asked protesters to leave on their own, and so police were forced to act to disperse them and restore public order,” a police spokesperson said in a statement.> Israeli protesters hold placards during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on July 23, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Anti-Netanyahu protesters have been holding regular rallies outside his official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. Rallies against Netanyahu’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic have also been held, though mostly in Tel Aviv.
There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, and police were reportedly wary of further clashes. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.
Police put the number of protesters at 4,000, according to the Ynet news site. Demonstrators held signs with slogans including, “We won’t stop fighting for the state,” “I have no other land,” and “Fed up with corruption.”
Yotam, a 27-year-old Hebrew University student, said this was his fourth time attending the anti-government rallies.
“I feel like this government is cheating us. They’re telling us a story which serves one man in power,” Yotam said.
Noga, a Haifa native who now lives in Jerusalem, told The Times of Israel that the most important thing for her now was for the country to be unified.
“We can see that the behavior of the government right now is dividing the country. That’s why it’s important for me to be here,” Noga said.
The protest drew a wide array of demonstrators, from hippies distributing flowers, to a self-proclaimed Likud voter who opposes Netanyahu, to Hadash activists calling for an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. One idea, however, seemed to unite every protester in the square: that the current government must not remain in power.
“What I want most is for this whole government to go home. All of them? Yes, all of them,” said Nati, a 40-year-old Tel Aviv resident.> Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on July 23, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A number of female protesters at the rally removed their shirts and held up signs with the words “tits photograph better than…” followed by various words written on their chests, including “occupation” and “police violence.” One held a sign calling for “Justice for Iyad,” in reference to Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man killed by police in Jerusalem in late May.
Their act appeared to be inspired by a protester who raised a firestorm by removing her shirt on Tuesday while on a menorah statue near the Knesset.> Topless Israeli activists hold placards during an anti-government demonstration in Jerusalem on July 23, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
A small counter-protest of Netanyahu supporters was also held nearby.
Among those who came out were members of the La Familia Beitar Jerusalem soccer hooligan club, Hebrew media reported.
Haaretz reported that some anti-Netanyahu protesters said they were attacked by members of the gang: “There were four people from La Familia who yelled ‘It’s a shame that Hitler didn’t finish the job,’ and ‘You don’t deserve someone like Bibi, you deserve someone like Hitler.’ Then a bigger group approached me and I started filming them, pushed me and knocked my phone out of my hand,” one left-wing activist was quoted saying.
A video shared shared by Channel 13’s Tal Shorrer also showed the group singing a song in praise of Yitzhak Rabin assassin Yigal Amir.
עכשיו בהפגנת לה פמיליה סמוך לבית ראש הממשלה:
שיר ההלל ליגאל עמיר:
״ולפתע פתאום כתם דם באדום
לא רוצים הסכם שלום
לאה רבין רבין זונה
איזה הלם קיבלה
(ההמשך של השיר: ..תודה רבה, יושב בתא בלי חרטה) pic.twitter.com/5G4opLBnsb
— Tal Shorrer (@TalShorrer) July 23, 2020
Police had granted permission for the protests to continue until 11 p.m., with acting police chief Motti Cohen urging the sides to “maintain a protest free of violence and unrest and to adhere to police instructions.”
The two crowds were separated by several hundred meters, with a large number of policemen on scene to keep them apart and to protect the premier’s residence on Balfour street. The streets around the demonstrations were blocked to traffic.> Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rally outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on July 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 )
Netanyahu in a Thursday night press conference on the coronavirus, held during the protest, said to the demonstrators: “Don’t drag the state into anarchy, violence, and destruction of property. Don’t drag it into attacks on police; they’re doing their jobs.”
Anti-Netanyahu protests have been going on for several years, led by a core group of older protesters, but in recent weeks have drawn in a younger cohort. The financial crisis and soaring unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have provided the impetus for younger people to join their elders on the streets.
Amir Haskel, a former Israeli Air Force general who has become a prominent figure in the anti-Netanyahu protests, told Ynet: “Tonight’s protest is a protest of young people. We expect very many of them and hope that the protest ends without violence.”> Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference at the Health Ministry, July 23, 2020. (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
The organizers said in a statement: “Thousands of young people that are coming out to protest are not victims of the coronavirus — they’re victims of the [governmental] corruption of Benjamin Netanyahu.”
Demonstrations against Netanyahu, which organizers dubbed the “Siege of Balfour,” took place near his residence on several nights last week.
The events have veered between a carnivalesque atmosphere, with circus performers and meditation circles, and violence, including a controversial incident Tuesday night when a police officer was filmed and photographed digging his knee into the neck of a protester.
Israel’s spiraling coronavirus crisis, and the economic effects of its second wave, have ratcheted up tensions in the country and caused a steep drop in Netanyahu’s approval ratings.
Source : https://www.timesofisrael.com/dozens-arrested-as-police-clear-large-anti-netanyahu-rally-in-jerusalem/