Hundreds of people demonstrated outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Friday, demanding that he resign over his indictment on corruption charges.
It was the third such demonstration this week at the junction of Gaza Street and Balfour Street, the road where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located. A previous protest, attended by several thousand people on Tuesday, turned violent and dozens were arrested during clashes with police.
Many of the protesters turned up in bathing suits and with beach towels in a dig at the Netanyahu government’s decision in principle to shut beaches from next weekend, saying his government is not only corrupt, but also chaotic and inept.
Protesters held up signs, saying “A tsunami is coming” and pictures of dead fish with the caption the “stench of corruption.”
Police blocked off parts of Gaza Street.
Among those taking part in the protest was former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz.
“Enough is enough,” he told the Walla news site. “I hope that the defendant who is sitting only a few hundred meters from here is listening.”
“Before he destroys the country, we need to get him out of his position. His priority is defending himself and as far as he is concerned the country can burn and all the people can starve,” Halutz said.
The demonstration followed protests on Tuesday and Thursday.
Although organizers had called for protesters to spend Thursday night sleeping on the sidewalk, police warned that the demonstration must end on time at 11 p.m. and that participants would not be permitted to sleep on the street.
Nevertheless, about 100 people spent the night at the site.
Organizers called the rallies a “Siege of Balfour” and said the event was also to protest the government’s plans to introduce weekend lockdowns and ban public gatherings as part of the efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
“Preventing public gatherings and applying a lockdown is only intended to free Netanyahu from the siege,” organizers said in a statement reported Thursday by Walla.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn indicated Friday that protests would still be able to go ahead despite any lockdown measures.
This weekend, there are no new restrictions on movement and beaches will remain open, subject to social distancing. But a tighter weekend lockdown is likely to take effect from Friday, July 24, including restrictions on movement. As of July 24, beaches are also set to be closed on weekends.
While protests Thursday and Friday were relatively calm and ended without any reports of violent incidents, the memory of Tuesday’s clashes with police remained vivid in the minds of some protesters.
“Tuesday was insane, huge, historic. We can’t recreate it, even if we wanted to. It was unreal. It was important to experience it to understand what happened,” said Sasha, a 19-year-old Jerusalem resident.
“At one point I needed to hide behind an announcement board with a bunch of other people to avoid being attacked by cops on horseback. It was terrifying,” Sasha said.
Thursday’s protest, by contrast, had an almost carnivalesque atmosphere. Young people intending to sleep at the protest, wearing pajamas and clutching teddy bears, sat in meditation circles on the ground. A handful of circus performers entertained the crowd by spewing fire from their mouths. An activist at the protest told The Times of Israel that she was planning a dawn yoga session for the sit-in.
“Police came here today prepared for a violent protest. There were almost 20 police cars on the street by the afternoon, which was something that didn’t happen earlier, and they’ve erected those barricades on either side. But they’ve found instead a protest with very strong, positive energy,” Shimon, 59, told The Times of Israel.
On Tuesday night, police used water cannons and officers mounted on horses to disperse several hundred people who blocked the Jerusalem light rail system after midnight, following a large protest outside the official residence.
Several thousand people had gathered Tuesday evening calling on Netanyahu to quit over his indictment on corruption charges, as several separate social protests took place at the same time across the country.
Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene and clashed with police. As the protest ended, hundreds moved downtown, where they blocked the light rail system, chanting “shame, shame” and “Bibi [the prime minister’s nickname], go home.”
Police then turned water canons on the demonstrators and mounted police charged up and down the light rail tracks on Jaffa Street, sending protesters scattering to the side of the streets before regrouping.
Many then marched down Keren HaYesod Street, with some pushing garbage dumpsters and chain-link fences into the streets as makeshift barricades. Several dumpsters were set on fire.
Police said one officer was lightly wounded and 50 protesters were arrested.
The Jerusalem demonstrations are part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.
Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.
He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.