A court on Thursday rejected a police request to bar two anti-government demonstrators arrested in Tel Aviv a day earlier from attending rallies for several days, saying the measure would infringe on their legal right to protest.
The pair were among several dozen protesters arrested Wednesday during nationwide demonstrations against the government’s plans for overhauling the judicial system, which blocked roads, disrupted train service and drew thousands out to march. Police securing the rallies clashed repeatedly with protesters, using stun grenades, water cannons and officers mounted on horseback to disperse demonstrators blocking roads, prompting accusations of excessive force.
Karni Kadish and Sharly Aiish were arrested after demonstrating on the Ayalon Highway, and taken to a local police station. Officers demanded they keep away from protests for 15 days as a condition of their release, which they refused, sending the matter to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court.
In his ruling, Judge Yaron Gat noted that the two men were not violent — and that police do not contest this.
“The right to protest is a fundamental right of the first order and therefore limiting it in such a sweeping manner as requested by the police is reserved for extreme and unique cases,” Gat wrote in the decision. “The police request harms the fundamental right to protest in a disproportionate and extreme manner.”
Speaking with reporters at the courthouse, Kadish said he and Aiish had followed police orders and did not clash with officers after they went onto the highway.
“At some stage, when National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir arrived at the [police] command center, they started making arrests and forcibly removing people. They ‘made an example of us,’ because we were in a car,” Kadish said, referring to the far-right lawmaker who oversees police.
Kadish said that after nine hours at the station, police told him and Aiish they could leave if they signed a form pledging not to attend protests for 15 days, which they refused to do.
“They wanted to negotiate with us on how many days we were willing to accept and therefore we were summoned this morning by the judge, who tossed out the police request,” he said. “The right to protest is the right we’re fighting for.”
Following their release, two people remain in police custody, one of whom is accused of attempting to grab a policeman’s weapon.
Meanwhile, police announced that charges were filed against a man from Ramat Gan for threatening a protester with a screwdriver.
According to a police statement, the suspect, 35, got in “an ideological argument” with protesters, one of whom he approached with the screwdriver and threatened. Police added that the suspect was also found carrying pepper spray at the time of his arrest.
He has since been released under restrictive conditions, which police did not specify.
Also Thursday, the Police Internal Investigations Department launched a probe into an officer who hurled a stun grenade into a crowd of anti-government protesters a day earlier.
At least 11 people injured in clashes with police arrived in hospitals for treatment for various bruises, cuts and burns. One man needed to have his partially detached ear sown back on, apparently after being hit with a stun grenade.
In a statement, Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai said several police officers were also injured in clashes with demonstrators. He said police were committed to allowing protests and free speech so long as demonstrators do not disturb the peace.
The protests came as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved for its first reading in the Knesset plenum a government-backed bill to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation, amid opposition outrage directed at committee chair MK Simcha Rothman for his management of the process.
Critics say the proposed overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.