The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.
The Israel Police say all roads in Tel Aviv that were blocked for hours during the mass rally against the government’s judicial overhaul have been reopened.
Police say a total of 21 protesters were arrested on the Ayalon Highway after disrupting the order.
A number of police officers were lightly hurt during clashes with protesters in Tel Aviv this evening, including two who were bitten by rioters, police say.
Police also say that municipal workers are dealing with removing the remnants of items set on fire by rioters in order to fully reopen the highway.
The Labor party says it has filed a police complaint against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for comments about “punching back” against opposition voices.
“We filed a police report this evening requesting an investigation for incitement,” tweets Labor leader Merav Michaeli, citing comments by Netanyahu about using a “fist to strike them.”
Netanyahu said earlier this evening that his comments were clearly a metaphor about fighting back against lies.
“Netanyahu is once again inciting, once again inspiring violence,” Michaeli adds. “The last time that we ignored his incitement — it ended in murder,” she says, a reference to the 1995 assassination of Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin while Netanyahu was opposition leader. “This time we won’t let that happen.”
On Friday, the Likud party filed a police complaint against former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak after he called for civil disobedience in response to the judicial overhaul plan.
At least 18 protesters have been arrested so far after some activists broke onto the Ayalon Highway and blocked the main thoroughfare, say police.
Police say the northern side of the Ayalon has been reopened after cops cleared protesters, and that their activity is ongoing.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir accuses anti-government protesters who blocked the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv of an “illegal rampage.”
“The protesters’ illegal rampage in Tel Aviv, including burning tires on the Ayalon and spraying graffiti accusing the prime minister of Israel of treason, shows that this is an anarchic protest,” Ben Gvir says in a statement.
Ben Gvir calls on opposition leader Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz to “immediately condemn the anarchic riot and incitement.”
The far-right minister who oversees the Israel Police says he instructed officers “to act with zero tolerance against violence, incitement and anarchy.”
Tel Aviv police say that protesters have set tires and wooden planks alight along the Ayalon, and that officers are working to disperse those gathered on the highway.
So far 11 people have been arrested, including one protester who bit a police officer.
At least 11 protesters have been arrested for breaking through police barriers and blocking the Ayalon Highway, say police.
Police say that they have also opened an investigation into a protester seen writing graffiti on the highway calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “traitor.”
Omri Sharon, the son of late former Likud prime minister Ariel Sharon, speaks at a protest in Beersheba against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
“The democratic State of Israel must protect human rights,” Sharon says. “The judicial system must have independence, according to law, it must be effective in protecting the rights of citizens.”
“As long as the legislation continues to advance, we will continue to protest and rally — within the confines of the law,” says Sharon, himself a former Likud MK until he resigned in 2006 over a criminal conviction.
Sharon, however, speaks out against calls by army reservists to refuse to serve if such legislation passes: “It is important that anyone who does reserve duty will continue to do it, because it is for the good of all parts of the country.”
Police are working to clear protesters who broke through barriers and are blocking the Ayalon Highway, a main thoroughfare that passes through Tel Aviv.
According to police, officers are “preparing to prevent the advance of protesters who are moving along the highway.”
Video from the scene shows protesters breaking through further police barriers along the highway.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 25, 2023
Former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich speaks from the main stage at the anti-government protest in Tel Aviv.
Alsheich calls the government’s plan to overhaul the judicial a “regime revolution, which will transfer all power to the executive authority without any checks and balances, and allow the government to do whatever it pleases and show contempt for the law.”
Alsheich adds: “Don’t worry, we have a statesmanlike police [force] that will refuse to follow any clearly illegal orders.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks on stage at a mass anti-government protest in Tel Aviv.
“The [judicial] overhaul is an assassination of the declaration of independence, which will turn Israel into a dictatorship,” Barak says at the protest.
Barak rejects calls for negotiations with the government until the legislation is halted: “When there is a gun to your temple, you first eliminate it.”
“If these dictatorship laws come to fruition, we will have to walk the path of nonviolent civil disobedience,” Barak adds. “Nonviolent civil disobedience is not insurrection, it is the right and duty of every citizen… the call for civil disobedience is a call for every citizen to take action so that they won’t find themselves cooperating or supporting government actions which oppose their conscience.”
Hundreds of protesters at the anti-government rally in Tel Aviv breakthrough police barriers and block the Ayalon Highway, a main thoroughfare, according to photos and videos from the scene.
— 🇮🇱 Ronen Wai (@ronenwei) February 25, 2023
The Israel Defense Forces says troops detained a Palestinian who allegedly opened fire at the Havat Yair outpost this morning.
According to the IDF, the gunman opened fire at the outpost and fled the scene. Troops found six shell casings in the area.
He was detained several hours later in the West Bank town of Qarawat Bani Hassan, and the gun used in the attack — a makeshift “Carlo” submachine gun — was seized, the IDF says.
Havat Yair was established illegally in 1999, but was legalized by Israeli authorities in 2021.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, speaks from the main stage of the anti-government protest in Tel Aviv.
“We in the US and Canada are very concerned about the judicial overhaul that will change Israel’s democracy beyond recognition,” Jacobs says in Hebrew. “We are used to standing by Israel when it is threatened, but now Israel is also being threatened… we will invest efforts together with you to fight for the character of the State of Israel and in the name of Judaism we will protect democracy.”
Authorities in Bulgaria ban an annual torch-lit march in downtown Sofia in honor of a late general who led the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions during World War II.
The event has been condemned by human rights groups, political parties and foreign embassies, which criticized the march organizers for promoting racism, xenophobia and antisemitism.
Nationalists gather in front of the prosecutor’s office to protest the restrictive measures. Meanwhile, dozens of anti-fascist activists stage a rally against the nationalist event, insisting that neo-Nazis should be banned.
A heavy police presence blocks any clashes between the two sides. Police also block the streets around the site where Lukov had lived in Sofia to prevent the nationalists from holding a ceremony in memory of Lukov, which in past years was the high point of the event.
Tens of thousands of Israelis pour into the streets in Tel Aviv and across Israel to protest against the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system — for the eighth week running.
Opposition politicians turn out at many of the protests, and major thoroughfares are shut down by police to enable the rallies.
The protesters hold Israeli flags, flares and posters with different messages including: “No Constitution, No Democracy,” “They Shall Not Pass” and “We Shall Override.”
Channel 12 news estimates there are about 100,000 protesters in Tel Aviv, 30,000 in Haifa and thousands of others at sites across the country.
Four unarmed Palestinian youths are arrested by Israeli troops after infiltrating into Israel from the Gaza Strip this evening, the military says.
The Israel Defense Forces says the suspects, who crossed the barrier in the northern part of Gaza, near the Erez Crossing, are taken to the Shin Bet for further questioning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says comments he made at a closed government meeting about using a “fist” against opposition figures was clearly metaphorical and in no way meant to incite violence.
“It was clear to everyone who heard my words that I meant to strike back against the false claims of those who are spreading panic, and not any call for violence or harming the right to protest,” Netanyahu tweets.
In a rare, move, the Likud party releases a transcript of the comments that Netanyahu made during a cabinet meeting a few days ago.
“I want you to equip yourself and punch back, so to speak, strike back against the lies,” Netanyahu says, according to the transcript.
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be “striking against our enemies and not against citizens.”
At a protest against the government in Haifa, Gantz says that protesters “will not move out of the country, we will continue serving it, we will continue fighting for it and will ensure that it will be what is written in the declaration of independence.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the opposition of seeking anarchy in the country while opposition leader Yair Lapid says the government is fomenting incitement.
“They are intending to create anarchy in the State of Israel and to harm its economy in order to bring a sixth election,” tweets Netanyahu. He says opposition leaders have been “silent in the face of explicit calls by protest leaders for bloodshed, using weapons, civil rebellion, assassinating the prime minister… they just cannot accept that they lost the election.”
Netanyahu says he is calling on “responsible voices in the opposition not to cooperate with this lawlessness” and instead to immediately enter “serious dialogue for the good of the citizens of Israel and the State of Israel.”
Lapid tweets to Netanyahu that “the time has come to end your lies.”
“Like all the important economists in the country and in the world have explained, you’re the one who is destroying the economy, you are the one who is dividing the nation, you are the one inciting to violence.”
Lapid adds that “we will not allow you to destroy the Israeli democracy and we have no intention to be quiet in the face of your poisonous incitement.”
Israeli security forces foil an attempt to smuggle drugs into Israel from Lebanon earlier today, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police say.
According to the IDF, soldiers monitoring surveillance cameras spotted two suspects close to the border, near the northern Bedouin village of Aramsha, allegedly involved in the smuggling.
Troops and police officers dispatched to the scene manage to arrest one of the men and seize 48 kilograms (105 pounds) of hashish, estimated to be worth NIS 2 million ($545,000 million).
The drugs and suspect, a 25-year-old man from the northern Arab town of Ibtin, are handed over by police for further investigation.
“The IDF is prepared and equipped for every scenario and will continue to operate against every attempt to violate the sovereignty along the Blue Line,” the military says.
Previously, Israeli security officials have indicated drug and gun-running on the border with Lebanon are often on behalf of the Hezbollah terror group, which controls much of southern Lebanon.
The terror group is known to fund its activities through drug sales around the world, including producing large amounts of hashish in eastern Lebanon.
An enormous copy of Israel’s declaration of independence was hung on the Herzliya municipality building, purportedly by anti-government protesters.
It was not immediately clear if the move was approved by the municipality.
A protest is slated for Herzliya this evening alongside larger gatherings in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and elsewhere.
Gallant urges US counterpart Austin to ‘increase operations to prevent a nuclear Iran,’ his office says
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s office issues a readout from his Friday phone call with his American counterpart, Lloyd Austin.
According to the Defense Ministry, Gallant urged Austin to “increase operations to prevent a nuclear Iran.”
“The two discussed the security developments in the Middle East, including the Iranian nuclear issue and current events in the Palestinian arena,” his office says.
A Pentagon readout of the call said Austin urged Gallant to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank with the Palestinians after a deadly raid this week.
Gallant’s office says the defense minister briefed Austin on the raid in Nablus, saying the military “foiled a terror cell responsible for shooting attacks in Israel and planning future attacks.”
The pair also “discussed the joint efforts to calm the area ahead of the holidays,” his office says, adding that Gallant “emphasized the necessity of continuing the uncompromising fight against terror groups” in the West Bank.
On the Iranian issue, Gallant tells Austin that Israel is “very disturbed by the continued enrichment of uranium… and emphasized the need and commitment to prevent Iran from having a nuclear capability,” according to the readout.
Austin is expected to visit Israel next month, according to the Defense Ministry.
Police are shutting roads at central locations across the country to prepare for this evening’s mass protests against the government.
In Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, several main roads will be shut for the evening to accomodate the tens of thousands protesters expected to turn out in the next few hours.
Mass protests have been occurring weekly against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shake up the judiciary by severely curbing the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and cementing political control over the appointment of judges, with the central protest taking place in Tel Aviv.
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