Police deployed a water cannon against protestors in Jerusalem on Saturday night, the first time the crowd-dispersal method has been used in a number of months at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Protesters had gathered on Saturday in the capital and at bridges and intersections around the country for the 32nd week of demonstrations over Netanyahu’s indictment on graft charges and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around 1,000 people protested in Jerusalem. Police said that the water cannon was used when protestors approached the President’s Residence and attempted to break through a checkpoint.
One person was injured after being hit in the face by the water jet and was taken to hospital. His condition was said to be mild. A police officer was also injured during the clashes. Two people were arrested.
— مايا Maya (@The_Maya__) January 30, 2021
According to the Haaretz daily, there were a number of minor clashes between protestors and police prior to the deployment of the water cannon.
It was around 9 degrees Celsius (approx. 48 degrees Fahrenheit) in Jerusalem on Saturday evening, and the Kumi Yisrael protest group said the water cannon was deployed without warning the protestors.
לראשונה זה חודשים מכתזית מופעלת נגד מפגיני בלפור בדרך מהפורצים לבלפור. pic.twitter.com/nabxB70UYu
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) January 30, 2021
While use of the cannons against ultra-Orthodox and Arab protestors has been common for years, most recently in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm on Friday, it has gained increased attention in recent months over their use at the anti-Netanyahu protests.
There have been concerns about the use of the cannons at close range — last year a protestor hit in the face with a direct blast filed a complaint with the Police Internal Investigations Department in the Justice Ministry.
The Crime Minister movement, one of the groups leading the protests, charged that Netanyahu was using the pandemic to delay his corruption trial and accused the premier of being beholden to his ultra-Orthodox allies in the coalition.
“At the height of a health and economic catastrophe, the defendant [Netanyahu] takes Israel hostage to postpone his trial while he bows to his ‘natural partners’ the ultra-Orthodox,” the organization said in a statement.
Critics say Netanyahu is avoiding tough enforcement on the Haredi community, despite particularly high infection rates and numerous cases of rule-breaking, to avoid angering his political partners, without whom he has little chance of leading a government.
Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered outside Netanyahu’s home in the coastal town of Caesarea and in Tel Aviv.
Additionally, a group of demonstrators marched from the Chords Bridge at Jerusalem’s main entrance to Paris Square, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
According to Haaretz, protesters were demanding a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, as well as the release of the transcripts of government meetings on the matter.
Health Ministry data released Saturday evening showed there have been 4,738 reported COVID-19 deaths in Israel since the start of the pandemic, with over 25 percent of them in the past month alone.
Demonstrators have been holding regular protests for months against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Netanyahu is set to appear in court on February 8 to respond to the criminal indictment against him. His legal team has made repeated efforts to delay the court hearings and cancel the indictment on technical grounds, to no avail.
The prime minister denies wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors to remove him from office.