Jerusalem municipality evicts protest encampment outside Netanyahu’s residence

Demonstrators say tents, fences, posters, gazebos confiscated during early morning raid; city hall says what began as a temporary, authorized event became an ‘outpost’

Screen capture from video of municipal workers clearing away a protest site from near the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, July 12, 2020. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video of municipal workers clearing away a protest site from near the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, July 12, 2020. (Twitter)

The Jerusalem municipality on Sunday cleared away a protest site near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence, confiscating equipment in an early morning raid.

Protesters, who are seeking an end to Netanyahu’s rule, claimed items including tents, mattresses, two gazebos and signs were taken without a court order being presented to them.

City Hall said in a statement that the site, which grew in the aftermath of an authorized rally weeks ago, had taken on elements of a permanent “outpost,” which was proving a disturbance to local residents and hotels.

According to protesters, they were given no warning when some 20 municipal workers arrived at 5:30 a.m. to begin dismantling the site, at the intersection of Gaza and Balfour streets, where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located. The area, which has a relatively wide sidewalk, is a popular rallying point for demonstrations.

Protesters shared video of the eviction on social media.

Protester leader Amir Haskel, a former Air Force general who was arrested at the site last month during a rally, told media that the municipal workers had not presented a court order.

Amir Haskel prepares to get into a police car after he was arrested at a demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on June 26, 2020 (Twitter screenshot)

“The response to what happened here today is a mass convergence on Balfour, including staying overnight,” he told the Walla news site.

Haskel, who was not at the site during the evacuation, told Ynet that the protesters would regroup and were in the process of obtaining permission from the municipality to reestablish the encampment.

Protester Simcha Latman, who was asleep at the site when the municipal team arrived, told Ynet, “We are angry.”

“If you want to take action let us know in advance but it isn’t right that people jump on us at five thirty in the morning with great force.”

Latman said that protesters have already begun to put up new signs at the site.

The Jerusalem municipality said in a statement that an initial protest that had been approved for a few weeks ago had become a permanent fixture.

“The patience shown over a number of weeks, to our regret, led to the addition of elements of permanent presence without police or municipal approval.”

The statement listed “a kitchen, a generator, tents, fences, and elements that all created, in practice, the establishment of a permanent outpost in the middle of the street in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

“All these caused many disturbances that necessitated a proportionate eviction action of the permanent elements,” the statement said.

The municipality said that local residents and hotels in the area had complained about the protest camp, as did police, who said it was a disturbance of the peace.

The arrest of Haskel, along with two others, at the end of June turned him into a symbol of the protest movement that opposes Netanyahu’s continued rule. Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.

While some had been arrested for blocking a road during the protest, Haskel was not among them, but police said he bore responsibility as an organizer of the protest.

Netanyahu is on trial for a series of scandals in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. Protesters say he cannot continue to serve as prime minister.

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