Likud activists said behind complaints about protest encampment near PM’s home

Likud activists said behind complaints about protest encampment near PM’s home

Report says before early morning raids on camp, message sent round telling activists to call municipality and complain site is a public nuisance

Jerusalem municipality inspector speaks to a demonstrator near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem on July 13 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalem municipality inspector speaks to a demonstrator near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem on July 13 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Activists from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party were said to have been responsible for a number of complaints to police and the Jerusalem municipality that led to the clearing of a protest site near the premier’s home on Monday morning, for a second time.

According to a report by Channel 12, a message was sent around to activists, not necessarily from the city, telling them to complain to the municipality that the protest camp was causing problems for them as residents.

“Friends, start calling and report the nuisance,” the message said, with the relevant phone number and clear instructions that a complaint should be made claiming that pedestrians’ right of way was being obstructed by the encampment.

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

Police, municipal inspectors clash with protesters near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence, Jerusalem, July 13, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)

However, Dafna Kaplanski, who has lived by the Prime Minister’s Residence for around 40 years, told Channel 12 that she did not know of any local residents who had complained.

“I am used to demonstrations and in this case I support the protesters and am prepared for them to be here from morning until night. I do not know of any neighbors who have lodged complaints with the police, so to the best of my knowledge [those who filed the reports] are right-wingers,” she said.

City Hall said in a statement on Sunday 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.

“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,” it said.

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.”

Municipal inspectors on Monday morning clashed with demonstrators as they cleared the site for a second time. Video footage from the scene appeared to show officers forcibly taking equipment from the encampment and confronting protesters.

Organizers of the protest said that six people were injured.

“One of the inspectors pulled out a knife and cut me in the forehead when he came to cut the sign I was holding,” protester Roi Peleg told the Ynet news site.

“One man was taken to the hospital over fears he broke his arm. The videos clearly show people falling to the floor when the inspectors pulled away the equipment,” Peleg said.

Roi Peleg surrounded by police officers near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 13, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 13 news)

“They stormed in and trampled protesters who slept here at night, ripped up signs, and took mattresses, sleeping bags and the personal possessions of people. We the demonstrators were trying to protect our bodies with our gear, equipment that is approved by the Israel Police and the Jerusalem Municipality. We asked to see a court order, but were ignored,” he said.

The encampment was part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.

“This morning at 5:40 a.m. a group of about 30 policemen, police officers and city inspectors attacked the encampment at Balfour [Street] and the demonstrators, who are permitted to be there,” the organizers said in a statement.

“Without identifying themselves or presenting any [court] order they began to violently confiscate the protesters’ private property, without an explanation as to why the property was seized. Police and inspectors removed signs hung… in coordination with police yesterday, and inspectors clashed with civilians.”

Roi Peleg holds a report of items seized after officials cleared a protest camp near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, July 13 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The municipality disputed the claims, saying in a statement: “This morning, again, the equipment that was placed without a permit and disturbed the peace was removed. Every allegation of use of violence has been examined and found to be false.”

Police said in a statement that following complaints from local residents of disturbances and the blocking of the sidewalk, officers arrived at the scene to secure municipal employees who cleared equipment from the encampment. There was no mention of any clashes in the statement.

Opposition MK Moshe Ya’alon said that the eviction was an attempt by the premier to mute any criticism.

“By force, by violence, by intimidation, without presenting a court order, and with a rampage that caused civilian injuries and equipment destruction, Netanyahu is trying to suppress the protest and fortify the dictatorship. It won’t help him!” he tweeted.

Israeli activist and former air force general Amir Haskel holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Protest leader Amir Haskel, a former Air Force general whose arrest at the site last month during a rally made headlines, said in a tweet that the eviction was a “pogrom.”

“Despite the understandings reached yesterday between MK Miki Levy and a senior Jerusalem municipality official regarding the continuation [of the protest] in Balfour, a pogrom was carried out this morning,” Haskel said.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on trial at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Opponents and supporters of Netanyahu have held a number of recent demonstrations outside his official residence, including dueling rallies in May on the day his corruption trial began.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

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