Dozens of people blocked traffic in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening in protest of abuse at a daycare center in Ramle, as graphic footage of the alleged violence against the toddlers emerged.
The demonstrators demanded harsh sentences for the accused teachers at the Tuli Kindergarten, shouting “Life sentences,” and “Wake up, judge, the children are worth more,” and called for greater oversight of daycares and kindergartens to prevent abuse.
The protesters, who included angry parents from the Ramle center whose children were affected, briefly disrupted traffic at the Azrieli Junction, before police dispersed the crowd.
The rally came hours after a court cleared for publication security camera footage from the daycare center, which showed over 200 incidents of violence against the 20 children, all under the age of three.
It showed the teachers hitting, yanking, kicking, throwing objects at their heads, and spraying unidentified liquids at the toddlers and infants, as other staff members looked on.
Television networks recorded the reactions of the affected parents as they watched the footage for the first time, many of whom began screaming and weeping.
Police earlier this week arrested the daycare owner and seven teaching assistants.
The owner, named by Hebrew-language media as Lital Barsi, had previously been held on suspicion of violating daycare supervision laws. She was remanded on Monday for four days by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on the basis of video evidence which appeared to show she was present for some of the abuse.
Her arrest came after days of protests by parents of children at the preschool who said she was being treated leniently due to an agreement to cooperate with police.
The assistants are also expected to be charged over the abuse, reports said Wednesday.
One of the assistants freed to house arrest on Wednesday, Claudine Meir, denied any knowledge of or involvement in the alleged abuse.
“I am as innocent as they come,” she told the Ynet news site. “Abusing a child is the limit. I have a son and I’ve been trying for years to have children. I wouldn’t do such a thing. I loved the children just as I loved my own child.”
During police questioning, some of the assistants admitted to investigators they may have shown “insensitivity,” but maintained they never intended to harm the young children, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
There have been several high-profile cases in which teachers at private daycares have been caught on film abusing children, sparking widespread public anger.
Last year, graphic footage allegedly showing daycare owner Carmel Mauda and others abusing children as young as 3 months old led to large protests, and an arsonist set fire to the Rosh Ha’ayin building housing the daycare and Mauda’s home.
Also last year, a daycare center attendant was sentenced to 17 years in prison for smothering to death an 18-month-old girl under her care.
A bill requiring all childcare centers and nurseries to have security cameras had been debated and delayed for years before finally being passed by the Knesset in December last year. According to the new law, from September 2020 all daycare centers, nurseries, and rehabilitation centers will need to install security cameras, unless 70 percent of the parents object.
All activities inside the centers and the yards outside will be recorded, without sound, on closed-circuit systems. The footage will only be accessed by authorities if there is a suspicion that an offense has been committed. Improper distribution of images will carry a sentence of up to six months in prison.