A police officer was filmed and photographed digging his knee into the neck of a protester at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the premier’s official Jerusalem residence on Tuesday night.
Interviewed the following day by the Haaretz daily, the protester, identified as 28-year-old Or Yerushalmi, said that “had [the policeman] applied a little more pressure, I would not have been able to breathe.”
Yerushalmi said that he was attacked after he tried to prevent a cop from punching a middle-aged woman who was protesting alongside him.
“I tried to stop him and hold back his hand, but then he and another officer yanked me to the floor. Then, two or three cops — I do not know how many for sure –grabbed me. One held me down and the other put his foot on my neck. It lasted a few seconds and hurt, but I did not suffocate,” he said.
“We were not being violent. They just pulled out people at random and decided to arrest them,” he said.
Very powerful video from Israe’s protests by Assaf Shaffirpic.twitter.com/V7vebBI6H8
— Noa Landau נעה לנדאו (@noa_landau) July 22, 2020
Police in a statement dismissed criticism of the officer’s use of force, claiming the the footage presented “a partial picture of only a few seconds… [that do not include] the serious violence directed at the police officers that preceded it.
“During a protest that escalated into a violent riot and a disturbance of public order, a police officer tried to detain a demonstrator when he was pounced on and beaten by a number of demonstrators, including the demonstrator in the footage, who swung an iron bar at the policeman that turned out to be a bicycle seat, and even tried to kick him. We take violence directed at police officers seriously and we will not allow anyone to harm Israel Police officers and the Border Police,” the statement added.
However, police did not deny that the officer used his knee to nearly choke the protester, in a tactic that just a month ago spokesman Micky Rosenfeld claimed Israeli law enforcement does not use.
“There is no procedure that allows an officer of the Israel police department to carry out an arrest by placing a knee on the neck of a suspect,” Rosenfeld tweeted last month in an apparent reference to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a killing that sparked anti-racism protests in the US, Israel and around the world.
Israel’s first-ever Bedouin diplomat Ishmael Khaldi recently complained that the tactic was also used against him, weeks after Rosenfeld made the declaration, when he was manhandled by security guards at a bus depot in Jerusalem.
Yerushalmi was one of thousands who protested in Jerusalem on Tuesday night against Netanyahu and his government’s policies.
The protest was organized by several groups, including restaurant owners angry at the repeated closures forced upon them in recent months, self-employed Israelis who say government support has been insufficient, and the so-called “black flag” anti-corruption protesters against Netanyahu. Dozens also called for justice for an autistic East Jerusalem man Iyad Halak, shot by police in May.
מה שקרה לי אתמול:
אני עומד ברוגע ומחזיק שלט שכתוב עליו: ״צדק לאיאד 1988-2020״
קצין משטרה מביט על השלט, ניגש אליי בעצבים, אומר לי לעזוב את השלט ולבוא איתו לצד.אמרתי לו שיגיד לי למה אני צריך לבוא איתו. אמר לי לבוא, שאלתי למה והוא לא הסכים להגיד. >> pic.twitter.com/NFXOIXdpPe
— Ariel Bernstein (@bernstein_ariel) July 22, 2020
One of the protesters, holding up a sign that read, “Justice for Iyad,” was filmed being approached by an officer who appeared to disapprove of the message. The cop ordered the protester to come with him, but when the latter refused, demanding the officer explain why, he was yanked away by several officers and detained for several hours.
After largely peaceful protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, during which the demonstrators marched to the nearby Knesset and back, police began forcibly clearing people from Paris Square outside the residence at around 1 a.m.
Thirty-five people were arrested when clashes broke out, but they were all released by police on condition that they refrain from approaching the prime minister’s residence. Four others were arrested Wednesday morning for attempting to block roads near the Knesset along with dozens of other protesters.