Workers from the Jerusalem municipality on Saturday morning removed a statue which was inspired by an iconic photo of a demonstrator against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding Israel’s national flag against a stream of liquid shot from a water cannon.
The workers were accompanied by police officers, who arrested artist Itay Zalait who lay down at the statue’s base in an attempt to prevent its removal. He was released a number of hours later, the Haaretz daily reported.
Zalait said the statue, which was erected in Jerusalem’s Paris Square, close to the Prime Minister’s Residence and the epicenter of the protests against Netanyahu, had an “engineering permit and did not disturb anyone.”
According to Haaretz, police were asked to show an order to document that the statue was being legally removed, but did not do so.
Earlier, Zalait told the Kan public broadcaster that he believed the demonstrators were everyday heroes, and the six-ton “Hero of Israel” statue was meant to depict that.
“A person who leaves the house every day, takes risks and gets beaten up, guards their home and fights for democracy is no less than an Israeli hero,” Zalait said.
The image that inspired the statue was taken on July 18 and was immediately seen around the world as an iconic image and symbol of the demonstrations.
At the protest in question there were complaints of police aggression toward protesters, as well as concerns about the use of water cannons at close range.
That same evening, a protest leader lay under a water cannon in an attempt to thwart its use — last month he was among the first anti-Netanyahu demonstrators charged for their actions at protests, and now faces an indictment for interference with a police officer in the performance of their duties.
The statue was not the first political statement made by Zalait through art — earlier this year he installed a pop-up exhibit 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.
Before that, he built a golden statue of Netanyahu to mock what he said was the idolatry of many Israelis toward the longtime leader.
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.
In addition to a central protest in Jerusalem and satellite demonstrations around the country, demonstrators regularly rally outside the Netanyahu family’s private residence in Caesarea.