Complaint said filed over police violence toward 18-year-old

Amid widespread claims of brutality at anti-overhaul rallies, police defend conduct

Over 30 protesters sought medical treatment, with police saying 14 officers were wounded Monday; Shabtai: ‘We are working to the best of our abilities, and sometimes make mistakes’

Police officers place a demonstrator in a chokehold during an anti-overhaul protest on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on July 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Police officers place a demonstrator in a chokehold during an anti-overhaul protest on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on July 24, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Israel Police continued to defend its officers’ conduct in responding to mass protests against the judicial overhaul across the country on Monday and early Tuesday, as activists complained of excessive violence and police brutality, including against an 18-year-old.

Videos shared widely showed instances of police kicking protesters lying on the ground, throwing burning pallets towards them, dragging activists by their hair and using excessive violence during arrests of those allegedly blocking roads and highways, including those who were not resisting arrest. According to a tally by the Kan public broadcaster, 32 protesters were injured and sought medical attention as a result.

Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai said in a statement on Tuesday that “these are not simple days. We are stationed in the eye of a storm, and are subject to criticism from both sides. There are those who say we are too patient and accommodating, and those who say that we are acting confrontationally.”

Shabtai denied claims from some activists that police activity was influenced by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has called for a harsher crackdown on protesters and was responsible for ousting Tel Aviv police chief Ami Eshed, who took his leave from the force last week.

“You and I know well that we are working to the best of our abilities, and of course we sometimes make mistakes,” Shabtai told a gathering of senior police officials on Tuesday, according to the statement. “But there cannot be a false impression created that operative decisions are made due to outside pressures… All orders are given only based on professional and operational considerations.”

Multiple videos and eyewitness accounts depicted police deploying water cannons against protesters who were not blocking any roads or carrying out any illegal activity.

In Jerusalem outside the Knesset on Monday, police sprayed foul-smelling skunk spray at protesters who were attempting to block access to the parliamentary complex.

A water cannon was also fired directly at a man who was sitting at a wall at the side of the road, knocking him backward. Physicians have long urged police to stop using the crowd dispersal method, citing the injuries caused by direct hits.

In one widely shared video, 18-year-old Amitai Aboudi was repeatedly assaulted and dragged by a group of police officers during his arrest on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv late Monday.

His mother, Ifat, wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that after he was handcuffed, “they took him aside and punched him… Afterward, Amitai asked another officer for water. The police officer shoved him and threw him on the ground, hitting him again.”

She also said that an officer told her son that he would rape his mother.

In an interview, Ifat said that she understood why he was arrested for blocking the highway, but the violence was wholly unnecessary and left him bleeding and in pain.

Kan reported on Wednesday that Aboudi’s family lodged a formal complaint with the Police Internal Investigations Department against the officers who arrested and allegedly assaulted him, including senior riot police officer Yair Hanuna, who was photographed apparently smiling while he allegedly hit Aboudi. Police have reportedly denied that Hanuna hit Aboudi while he was already detained.

The public broadcaster reported that the officers involved were not wearing bodycams at the time of the arrest, in contravention of regulations. Army Radio reported Wednesday that Hanuna is facing another PIID complaint over excessive force two weeks ago against a protester, who claims the officer broke his nose.

Chief Superintendent Avi Ofer, the deputy commander of the Tel Aviv Police Department, was accused of excessive violence while arresting a protester in another incident caught on camera.

In a video statement issued by police, Ofer said the suspect was holding a flare and using it to light tires on fire on the highway, and that surrounding protesters “threw water bottles at us, and shoved us.”

Ofer was taken to Ichilov Medical Center with damage to the cartilage in his wrist, police said. Ofer said the injury was caused during that arrest.

Police said Tuesday that 14 officers were wounded in clashes with protesters Monday and early Tuesday in Tel Aviv, with several seeking medical treatment.

According to the Israel Hayom daily, two police officers were questioned by the PIID on charges of using excessive force in breaking up the protests, including one who punched a detainee in the face after he was already in handcuffs.

Israel Police spokesman Eli Levi told the 103FM radio station on Wednesday that any such accusations of excessive force would only be handled by the PIID, “and we won’t hold a drumhead court martial of officers who have been working for the past 30 weeks on the frontlines of preserving public order.”

Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from Monday night into early Tuesday morning, burning tires, setting off fireworks and waving national flags. At least 40 people were arrested in protests around the country. It took hours for police to clear highways in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as activists raged following the passage of the first piece of legislation in the government’s judicial overhaul plan.

Using mounted police that charged into the crowd, helmeted riot police and water cannons, authorities only managed to clear the Ayalon highway after 1 a.m., though thousands continued to demonstrate at nearby Kaplan junction, where crowds had massed hours earlier in reaction to the government coalition’s contentious “reasonableness” bill being approved in its final two votes.

In Jerusalem, police also used officers on horseback and powerful blasts of skunk water to drive off protesters who rallied first outside the Knesset and later blocked the Begin freeway and demonstrated near the Supreme Court building, an institution that government critics say will be left toothless by the judicial overhaul, rendering Israel’s democracy defunct.

Activists also blocked roads in Haifa, Ra’anana and elsewhere. In an apparent first, police were equipped with stun grenades and authorized to use them against the protesters, though none were actually deployed, Channel 12 news reported.

There were also several bouts of violence between protesters and other civilians.

In Kfar Saba, three people were lightly injured when a van rammed through a group of protesters marching on Route 531, an area highway. In a video, the vehicle could be seen pushing its way through the group and hitting a number of people before speeding off. Police arrested the driver for questioning.

In Jerusalem, an anti-overhaul protester was held on suspicion of using a flagpole to break the back window of a car as a woman drove with her children near an intersection where protesters had gathered.

And in Kibbutz Hatzerim in the south, seven people were detained when a fight broke out between pro- and anti-overhaul protesters. During the scuffle, the head of the town’s security squad fired his gun in the air.

Monday’s vote saw lawmakers approve a measure that prevents judges from striking down government decisions on the basis of being “unreasonable.” The government’s critics say eliminating the judicial standard of reasonability opens the door to corruption and improper appointments of unqualified cronies to important positions.

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