Jerusalem cops remove iconic protest statue with demonstrators chained to base

Officers disassemble sculpture, saying it was erected during anti-Netanyahu protest without a permit, posed a safety hazard; artist Itay Zalait remains attached to base

Israeli police officers and the municipality remove a statue of an anti-Netanyahu demonstrator outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem March 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli police officers and the municipality remove a statue of an anti-Netanyahu demonstrator outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem March 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem police removed on Sunday morning a statue of an iconic image of an anti-Netanyahu protester, which was erected the night before as part of the 20,000 person demonstration against the premier.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement that the statue was erected without a permit and posed a safety hazard, including to demonstrators.

The sculpture, titled “Hero of Israel,” pays homage to a protester who was photographed clenching an Israeli flag against a barrage of liquid from a water canon while protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last July.

On Sunday morning, police struggled to dismantle the sculpture, as two individuals including artist Itay Zalait attached themselves to it, locking their arms into its base. Eventually the statue was sawed off the base and taken away.

Police use a water cannon against demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 18, 2020. This image inspired Zalait’s “Hero of Israel” sculpture. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

After the police successfully removed the figure of the protester, Zalait remianed attached to the foundation and bystanders took turns climbing onto it and posing as the iconic image.

Ahead of the demonstration on Saturday evening, several protesters, including Zalait, handcuffed themselves to the sculpture to prevent its removal.

“I told the police I would leave the sculpture on Tuesday, but they preferred to saw it off over my head, creating sparks over my head and causing me burns, instead of just leaving it and letting me leave. It’s very upsetting and painful,” Zalait told Channel 12 news.

This was the second time Zalait attempted to erect the “Hero of Israel” sculpture in Jerusalem. In December 2020, workers from the Jerusalem municipality removed the statue while police officers arrested Zalait, who lay down at the statue’s base in an attempt to prevent its removal.

A week later, the sculpture was erected in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, after the city municipality approved its installation.

Itay Zalait stands in front of his statue of an anti-Netanyahu demonstrator in Jerusalem, December 4, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zalait told the Kan public broadcaster at the time that he believed the demonstrators were everyday heroes, and the “Hero of Israel” statue was meant to depict that.

Demonstrators have been holding regular protests against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors to remove him from office.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered by the premier’s residence to call for Netanyahu’s resignation. Saturday’s protest will be the last held before the March 23 election, the fourth in the last two years.

Last year, Zalait installed a pop-up exhibit in Rabin Square of a life-sized statue of Netanyahu enjoying a lavish meal by himself at a sprawling table, in a parody of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.”

Two years ago, he erected a statue of Israel’s then-culture minister, Miri Regev, wearing a long white dress and staring into a full-length mirror. The depiction was meant to protest Regev’s calls for legislation requiring artists to show “loyalty” to the state.

And before that, he built a golden statue of Netanyahu to mock what he said was the idolatry of many Israelis toward the longtime leader.

Zalait’s statue wasn’t the only depiction of Netanyahu to cause a stir recently. Last week a sculpture was placed in Habima Square in Tel Aviv that depicted the prime minister squatting naked in a corner. It was removed soon after, while police attempted to trace who was behind the installation.

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