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High Court: Protest limits during 2nd lockdown were unlawful, all fines annulled

Government said restrictions were imposed to protect against outbreak, but critics maintained rules designed to halt anti-Netanyahu demonstrations

Illustrative: Israelis march in protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the entrance to Jerusalem, January 30, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis march in protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the entrance to Jerusalem, January 30, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice ruled Sunday that regulations that limited anti-government protesters to within a kilometer of a person’s home during the country’s second coronavirus lockdown last fall were unlawful.

Any fines given to demonstrators for breaking those rules will be canceled, the court ruled. The decision also bars the government from imposing such a regulation in the future.

The rule only lasted two weeks, between September 30 and October 13, at the height of Israel’s second infection wave.

The limitation was intensely controversial and petitions were immediately filed with the High Court by several anti-government groups. The government then told the court that it would not extend the special emergency measure beyond the initial two-week period.

FILE: Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The limitation led the protests to morph from rallies mostly centered around Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and a few other major cities to widespread events held throughout the country, as people protested in central intersections and bridges near their homes. This style of protest lasted well beyond the lifting of the lockdown rules.

The rule set by the government was widely thought at the time to be specifically targeting protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which had become a weekly affair for a year.

The main site of the protests has been outside the official Prime Minister’s Residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour St., with later offshoots including the area outside the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea and bridges and highway overpasses throughout Israel.

The protesters have rallied against Netanyahu during his corruption trial and what they see as his government’s unsatisfactory handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

One of the largest of these protests so far was held on March 20, in what was the final mass protest before the latest Knesset elections. Tens of thousands of demonstrators reportedly gathered in Jerusalem on that Saturday evening.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his official residence in Jerusalem, on March 20, 2021, a few days before the Israeli general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At its height in mid-summer 2020, the anti-Netanyahu protest movement saw tens of thousands take to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with thousands more carrying black flags and protest signs on bridges and intersections across the country.

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