Ben Gvir: We let them block roads, go wild, too many times

Amid claims of brutality, police probe mounted cop for trampling protester – report

Police deny using controversial sound cannon to disperse crowds, say officers beat demonstrators in separate incidents in response to violence

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

A horse tramples a man at a protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
A horse tramples a man at a protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Israel Police is investigating an incident in which a mounted policeman allegedly trampled a demonstrator during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Tuesday against the coalition’s efforts to overhaul the judiciary, among several instances of alleged violence by law enforcement that occurred during protests, the Haaretz daily reported.

Footage showed the officer suddenly turning his horse and running over the protester on Kaplan Street.

The protester was taken to a hospital with light injuries.

Two other protesters were also injured by mounted cops on Tuesday.

In one case, a woman was hospitalized after an officer’s horse trampled on her leg. She told Haaretz that an officer rode onto the sidewalk where she was standing. Footage from the Kaplan Street area on Tuesday showed mounted officers in a pedestrianized area, although it was unclear if it was the same incident.

According to police protocols, mounted officers are only meant to be deployed in cases of violence and disruption to public order, the report said.

Thousands of anti-government protesters blocked streets across the country on Tuesday as part of a nationwide “day of disruption” in response to the Knesset passing in a first vote part of the government’s judicial overhaul legislation hours earlier.

Police deployed water cannons at a number of locations, and several incidents of officers beating demonstrators were caught on camera.

Police are also alleged to have improperly used a controversial sound cannon, Haaretz reported.

In one case, footage showed a policeman allegedly using a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) only meters away from protesters in the central town of Pardesiya on Tuesday.

According to police instructions, the device can only be activated a minimum of 20 meters away from individuals, and only after the intention to use it is announced.

Unnamed police sources and former officers told Haaretz that the device was indeed a sound cannon, but an official response by Israel Police to the news outlet said the device seen in the footage was a standard megaphone.

LRAD is a powerful sound device used for crowd control that can cause serious damage to hearing and other health problems. Such a device emits sound of 135-150 decibels at a frequency of 2,500-3,000 Hz.

Physicians have decried the use of such a device, saying it can cause permanent damage to hearing.

At a demonstration near the home of Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel last week, an officer was photographed with the device. Israel Police told a correspondent for Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that it was only used to announce instructions to demonstrators.

In another incident of documented violence Tuesday, a mounted officer hit a protester with a plastic baton along Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway. Police said the incident occurred while scuffles broke out between demonstrators and law enforcement.

A plain-clothed officer was also seen aggressively kicking and punching protesters while trying to arrest them in the city. An unnamed police source told Haaretz that protesters had attacked officers on the scene with sticks and tried to break through police barriers.

Overall, 77 protesters were arrested on Tuesday’s “day of disruption,” all of whom were released home, some to house arrest. Most of the detained were accused of blocking roads and other violations of public order, but police alleged that some of the suspects assaulted officers and their horses.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said “police did excellent work” dealing with the demonstrations, in an interview with Channel 12 news on Wednesday.

“We prevented blocking of the Ayalon last night without breaking any bones,” he claimed, adding: “If there is a specific incident, bring it to my attention.”

“I demonstrated hundreds of times; I was never worried about my rights,” said Ben Gvir. During the past six months of protests, he added, “We allowed them too many times to block roads, to go wild, to block the Ayalon [Highway], to block all of the State of Israel in the name of democracy. and that’s not okay. I’m in favor of permitting a demonstration. But there can’t be one law for Ethiopians and the haredim and the settlers [in the policing of protests], and another for those privileged folk.”

While the Ayalon Highway was not blocked for a significant period of time on Tuesday evening, a number of protesters did briefly make it onto the road, and the route was blocked on a number of occasions and at a number of locations earlier in the day.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protesters declared the nationwide “day of disruption” on Tuesday after the Knesset approved the first reading of a controversial bill to curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers.

The legislation canceling the “reasonableness” yardstick used by the courts in weighing politicians’ decisions is one of several bills proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, which comprises his Likud party and ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies. The overhaul plan has provoked more than six months of sustained protests by opponents who say it is pushing the country toward authoritarian rule.

The vote marked the first Knesset approval of a judicial overhaul bill since Netanyahu suspended the far-reaching legislative package in late March.

The protests have roiled Israel since Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the overhaul package in January, less than a week after the coalition took office.

Since compromise talks collapsed in June, the coalition has focused its legislative efforts on passing the reasonableness bill before the close of the Knesset’s summer session at the end of the month.

Still to come is a more central plank of Levin’s legislative package — a bill to remake the system for judicial appointments by largely transferring them into political control.

Netanyahu has said he plans to advance the judicial selection legislation in the Knesset’s winter session, which opens in October.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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