Days of Palestine – Jerusalem
Protests renewed in Jerusalem Saturday after a two-week hiatus due to coronavirus restrictions, with 10,000 Israelis calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation, while thousands more protested across the occupied land.
The protesters gathered in central occupied Jerusalem and marched to Netanyahu's official residence, holding banners calling on the embattled premier to "go" and shouting "revolution".
Two rallies were also organized in "Tel Aviv" and "Holon", while scores of smaller demonstrations were also held across Israel demanding the embattled premier to step down.
Israeli media quoted many protesters as saying that they were assaulted by pro-Netanyahu protesters, with injuries reported in a number of areas.
Protesters had previously been prevented from traveling farther than 1,000 meters from their homes in order to protest, and had been allowed to protest in groups of no more than 20.
The protesters say Netanyahu must resign, saying he is unfit to lead Israel while he is on trial for corruption charges.
They also say he has mishandled the coronavirus crisis, which has sent unemployment soaring.
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his role in a series of scandals. He has denied the charges and has said he is the victim of a conspiracy by overzealous police and prosecutors and liberal media.
Israeli media reported violent attacks on protesters by the Israeli Police. Protesters in Haifa, Jerusalem and Ramat Gan were sprayed with pepper spray. Police have arrested seven suspects in the attacks.
Police arrested nine protesters in Jerusalem after hundreds of people started marching toward the city center. About a thousand protesters managed to evade the police and march through central Jerusalem. Together, they are proceeding towards the market and from there to the Knesset.
Earlier in the evening, a group of young protest leaders led a march through Jerusalem to Paris Square, adjacent to the prime minister's official residence. A convoy of about 500 cars made the drive from central Israel's Sharon region to Jerusalem.
The Black Flags protest group reported that police checked each vehicle at a checkpoint near Abu Ghosh, on the main route to Jerusalem, causing traffic congestion and making it difficult for protesters to get to Balfour.
Jerusalem's Balfour street, where Netanyahu's official residence lies, has been the focal point for ongoing anti-corruption protests. Last month, emergency coronavirus regulations banned travel beyond 1,000 meters from one's home, effectively barring demonstrators from reaching Jerusalem. While the regulations were in effect, protesters demonstrated at over a thousand designated points across the country, allowing Israelis to demonstrate near their homes.
Even though the one kilometer protest distance restrictions expired on Wednesday night, demonstrators continued protesting at 1,275 locations around the country. In Tel Aviv, over 1,000 protesters marched from Habima Square to Rabin Square before continuing northward through the city.
Protesters across country report violence
Following the demonstration at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, two small explosives were thrown at protesters. According to eyewitnesses, a group of about 20 boys on bicycles arrived at the scene and started verbally abusing the protesters before throwing the explosives.
Mor, 23, identified 15 to 20 boys on electric bikes and scooters, who called the protesters "traitors" and "leftists", before one of them threw something in their direction and immediately fled. "There were two powerful explosions," she said, "luckily nobody was hurt."
In "Ramat Gan", a couple was pepper sprayed at the end of the protest. One of the two victims, a woman in her 50s who is a resident of the "Tel Aviv" suburb, said that she was standing at the junction as she does every week. After an hour and a half of protesting, as the couple started home, a car stopped near them and the driver stuck his hand out the window, pepper sprayed them, and fled.
She said that others came to their aid, and after they managed to regain their vision, another man stood close them on a motorcycle, cursing them and threatening to kill them. "A police officer went by seconds later, and they asked him for help, but he said that he would report it and just drove away." Her partner said that he knew that there would be people who would react negatively, but that he expected that at least the police would do something.
Police arrested three Kiryat Yam residents, all in their twenties, suspected of pepper spraying demonstrators in Haifa. A police statement said that a short while before 9 P.M., they received reports of people pepper spraying protesters at a number of sites throughout the city, and that evidence was found in the three mens' cars linking them to the attacks.
Police also confirmed reports of a pepper spray incident in Tel Aviv, in which a motorcycle courier with the Wolt delivery service pepper sprayed a 12-year-old girl who was there with her mother and brother, among others, at a protest.
He was stopped shortly after by a police officer at the scene. The child who was attacked, Rona Gilat, told Army Radio journalist Nurit Kanti that the courier claimed he himself had been attacked, but Gilat's mother Adi refuted the claim, saying that he was going at about 40 kilometers an hour, against the flow of traffic, making it impossible to attack him.
Wolt released a statement saying that they are unfamiliar with the incident, but denounce the act of violence and will cooperate with police.
On "Tel Aviv's Nordau Street", police arrested a 19-year-old suspect who sprayed an unknown substance at protesters, one of whom was injured by the attack and required medical care.
Earlier in the evening, on "Tel Aviv's Kaufmann street," Israeli police arrested a 54-year-old man who cursed at demonstrators and punched one of them in the face. The protester did not require medical treatment.
Israeli police also reported that in the early evening, they received reports that a suspect pepper sprayed protesters standing on Jaffa's Yefet Street from a vehicle. None were injured in the attack, and police identified the vehicle a short while later and took in two suspects, a 17- and 20-year-old from Bat Yam, for questioning.
At a protest in the Jezreel Valley, a video on social media showed a man stopping his car at an intersection, exiting the vehicle, and cursing at a protester, reported to be a woman in her seventies.
In the northern town of Kiryat Ata, police have opened an investigation after an unknown assailant threw a stone at protesters.
In the run-up to Saturday night's demonstrations, protest groups had called for an increased presence in two locations in Holon, which saw exceptional violence against demonstrators on Thursday night. Members of La Familia, the Beitar Jerusalem soccer fan club known for its far-right, anti-Arab ideology, shifted between the two main protest sites in the Tel Aviv suburb in a manner that appeared to have been planned in advance.
Some 200 protesters gathered at each of the city's two main protest sites. About 20 pro-Netanyahu counter-protesters also arrived, with a police force separating the groups. Border Police, special forces and other police units arrived at the Holon protest sites on Saturday evening ahead of the protest.
Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, speaking from Balfour Street, said of the attacks by La Familia in Holon that "I warned time and time again that Netanyahu's incitement will turn into violence in the streets. It was clear that it would happen."
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg also said she would submit a request for an "urgent debate in the Knesset regarding violence against demonstrators… in order to stop this madness."
At a square in Hadera, eight pro-Netanyahu protesters carrying Likud flags stood next to about a dozen anti-corruption protesters, carrying black and Israeli flags. Three police officers supervised the protests but did not intervene, nor did they attempt to separate the two groups. The anti-corruption protesters said that they had been demonstrating at the square for a while, but the counter-protesters had begun doing so only recently.
The Likud protesters, most of them teenagers and young adults, shouted pro-Netanyahu slogans at passing cars and cursed at the anti-Netanyahu activists next to them. They refused to be interviewed, and tried to distance Haaretz photographer Rami Shlush from the area by waving their flags at him.
The Black Flags protest group released a statement saying that "The State of Israel has found itself in the largest health and economic crisis in its history for one reason alone: Benjamin Netanyahu. The defendant, instead of caring for his citizens, cares only about himself and his family."
"There is only one way to stop the failed lockdowns and encourage the economy – bring about the departure of Netanyahu, and that the prime minister of Israel will be a man or woman who will deal with the country and not with themselves," the statement added.
On Thursday night, at Holon’s Kugel Square, La Familia members sprayed pepper spray at demonstrators, while in the plaza outside the Mediatheque, they hit one protest activist, Sadi Ben-Shitrit, in front of his 8-year-old son and assaulted Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum. If Appelbaum had not tried to separate the assailants and Ben Shitrit, the incident may have escalated. Two minors were later detained on suspicion of involvement in the assault.
Also on Thursday night, videos on social media showed a police officer pepper spraying a protestor and then kicking a person who was on the ground at a demonstration in Haifa. Eyewitnesses said that "people were banging on [a police] vehicle, and then a police officer arrived and began to spray people with pepper spray indiscriminately, and people began to flee… it's true that they were provoking the police, but provocation does not warrant such a lack of restraint."