The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
The Hamas terror group says the terrorist who carried out the shooting attack in Tel Aviv, Mutaz Salah al-Khawaja, was a member of its military wing.
Hamas says the attack came as a “natural response” to recent deadly Israeli military raids in the West Bank.
Al-Khawaja was shot dead by police officers and other armed Israelis at the scene of the attack that left three wounded.
An infiltration alert is sounding in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit after a suspected explosive device was discovered on a bus.
Residents are ordered by the military’s Home Front Command to remain in homes, lock doors and windows until further notice.
According to the Rescuers Without Border emergency service, a suspicious bag with a suspected explosive device was found on the bus.
Surveillance camera footage said to be from the bus shows a person leaving the vehicle, before smoke is seen from one of the seats. Another man is then seen running out of the bus.
The Israel Defense Forces does not immediately comment on the incident.
ביתר עילית: מטען נפץ באוטובוס. בחסדי שמים אין נפגעים. האויב בתוכנו מסתובב בחופשיות. הפקרות. pic.twitter.com/kkCdYBefVQ
— תורת לחימה (@Torat_IDF) March 9, 2023
Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai says that the fast reaction of four armed individuals prevented a much worse situation in Tel Aviv tonight.
Speaking to reporters at the scene of a shooting in Tel Aviv on Dizengoff Street, Shabtai says that “four armed individuals” helped take out the gunman who wounded three people.
Shabtai says that two police officers — including one off duty — and two citizens — including a reserve IDF officer — shot and “neutralized” the attacker not long after the shooting.
“We had a lot of luck here,” says Shabtai, “the fast reaction of the cops and citizens on the site prevented the murder of hundreds of people.”
The police chief says police know how the terrorist entered the country illegally but declined to provide those details at this time.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is not expected to show up at the shooting site this evening.
ROME — Participating by phone from Rome, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finishes a security consultation after the terrorist attack in Tel Aviv.
Joining him on the call are Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Military Secretary Avi Gil and the deputy chief of the Shin Bet security service.
The terrorist who carried out the shooting attack in Tel Aviv is identified as 23-year-old Mutaz Salah al-Khawaja, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Ni’lin.
Hebrew-language and Palestinian media reports say al-Khawaja is a Hamas member.
He reportedly did not have an entry permit to Israel when he carried out the attack.
مصادر عبرية: حصيلة عملية "تل أبيب" 5 جرحى واستشهاد المنفذ وهو الشهيد معتز صلاح الخواجا.
مرفق صورة المنفذ pic.twitter.com/3QdtUrBpUO
— Newpress | نيو برس (@NewpressPs) March 9, 2023
ROME — Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office tell The Times of Israel that there are no changes in Benjamin Netanyahu’s schedule in Rome at this stage.
He will meet his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni as planned Friday afternoon, and is slated to return to Israel only on Sunday morning.
David Friedman, an armed citizen who happened to be in Tel Aviv this evening, says he was one of the people who “neutralized” a terrorist who shot and wounded three people in Tel Aviv tonight.
“I didn’t think twice, I started running toward the terrorist” when I heard shots fired, Friedman tells the Kan public broadcaster in a live interview, adding that he shot three times toward the gunman.
Friedman says he lives in Petah Tikvah and is a volunteer with the city’s police department, and came to Tel Aviv to pick his daughter up for a birthday party.
Police said earlier tonight that two police officers were the ones to take down the shooter after he fled the scene.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweets that he is “shocked by tonight’s brazen terrorist attack in Tel Aviv that targeted innocent people. Praying for those who were injured.”
Officials at the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv say five people have been brought to the hospital from the shooting attack in the city.
Dr. Oren Goren, the head of the hospital’s operating room, says one victim brought to the hospital in critical condition has been stabilized by doctors in the trauma ward, and will now undergo surgery.
A second man seriously hurt in the attack will also undergo surgery shortly, he says.
A third victim was lightly hurt, and another two are being given psychological treatment, Goren adds.
Tel Aviv district police chief Amichai Eshed — who was removed from his post hours earlier but remains in charge — recounts the Tel Aviv terror attack for reporters.
Eshed says that tonight as police were dealing with mass demonstrations, “a terrorist came to Dizengoff Street” and opened fire, shooting three people fleeing the scene.
Standing near the scene, the district chief says that two police officers later shot and killed the gunman, whose identity is still unknown. Eshed says police “are still hunting” for details and for anyone who may have assisted the gunman.
Eshed says all protests have been dispersed at this moment.
Asked about news just hours earlier that he was being moved to a new position within the police, Eshed refused to address them.
“I am not the issue, the residents of Tel Aviv and Israel are the issue,” he says. “This is what I’m dealing with tonight, everything else is not relevant to deal with tonight.”
ROME — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returns to the microphone at the Spanish Synagogue in Rome, telling those gathered that he had just received word of a shooting “in the heart of Tel Aviv tonight.”
“We will continue to build our nation, we will continue to deepen our roots, and to build our common future. As brothers and sisters,” he says. Netanyahu sends his prayers to those wounded and praises the security forces operating in the area.
The assembled guests then sing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
The US has approved a diplomatic visa for Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to enter the country on Sunday, less than two weeks after he called to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara, a spokesperson for the minister tells The Times of Israel.
Smotrich is scheduled to speak at the Israel Bonds conference in Washington on Sunday.
The Biden administration held discussions over whether to grant Smotrich after his Huwara comments, an official familiar told The Times of Israel last week, indicating that it would stop short of doing so and suffice with a statement by the White House that no US government officials would meet with the far-right minister while he’s in town.
Smotrich walked back the remark and apologized again yesterday, saying he did not intend for his words to be interpreted as a military command to indiscriminately eradicate the town and all its civilians.
ROME — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently on an official trip to Italy, is updated on the suspected terror attack while sitting in a Rome synagogue.
— Lazar Berman (@Lazar_Berman) March 9, 2023
Military secretary Avi Gil whispers in Netanyahu’s ears as they sit together at the Spanish Synagogue in Rome, shortly after the prime minister addressed a group of gathered Italian Jews.
Netanyahu can then be seen giving quiet instruction to his chief of staff, Tzachi Braverman.
— Lazar Berman (@Lazar_Berman) March 9, 2023
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai calls on protesters and Tel Aviv residents to go home after a suspected terror shooting in the city which wounded three.
Huldai says residents should stay home and stop the ongoing mass protests until the incident is dealt with.
Police say the shooter has been neutralized.
Police say the shooting in Tel Aviv which wounded at least three people is a suspected terror attack.
The attacker has been “neutralized” by police officers, law enforcement officials say.
Three people are wounded in the shooting in Tel Aviv, medics say.
The three victims, all men in their 20s, are taken to the Ichilov Hospital in the city.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says one victim is listed in critical condition, while the other two are listed in serious and moderate condition.
Police say the background of the shooting is still unclear.
ROME — Speaking in Rome’s Spanish Synagogue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers a message of unity, saying: “We are all brothers. Brothers and sisters.”
He says he welcomes “all initiatives” to find agreement and common ground, including that of President Isaac Herzog, who gave a speech just after the prime minister landed in Italy.
“We must remember that especially these days, days of argument and debate within Israel — we must remember we are one nation with a common future,” he says to applause.
He says bilateral ties with Italy have never been better, and that they will be better after his visit. Netanyahu also pledges to stop Iran’s nuclear program. He says he is working to expand ties with more Arab nations, mentioning Saudi Arabia by name, but saying that the decision ultimately lies with the leadership in Riyadh.
He finishes by returning to the refrain: “We are brothers and sisters.”
Two people are wounded in a shooting on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street, medics say.
According to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the two were shot next to a coffee shop on the corner of Dizengoff and Ben Gurion street.
There is no immediate comment from police on the background of the shooting.
President Isaac Herzog speaks forcefully and emotionally about the division tearing through the nation in recent weeks over the government’s judicial overhaul plans.
“I cannot watch my nation be ripped apart before my eyes,” he says. “What is happening is a tragedy.”
Herzog says he hears the cries of people begging him to step in and broker a deal, and says he will “pay any price to find a solution” but that “it has to happen now.” The president says he has been meeting over the past 10 weeks, “even with those who don’t agree with me, even those who won’t admit to [meeting me], even those who are afraid to take responsibility.”
Herzog says the public should not believe any reports about a compromise deal unless they come directly from him.
“I have succeeded in greatly narrowing the gaps” between the two sides, he says. “There is agreement on most topics — not on everything, but on the vast majority.”
“Certainly,” the president says, enough has been agreed on so far “to abandon the legislation currently being advanced, and to bring instead, to the discussions at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, a different, agreed framework.”
The basis exists, he says, “for a rapid summation, in which the only winners are the State of Israel and its citizens.”
“The package of legislation being advanced in committee now must disappear from the world, and fast,” he urges. “It is mistaken. It is crushing. It undoes our democratic principles and therefore it must immediately be replaced by a different, agreed framework.”
Herzog specifies the supreme values that must be safeguarded: “Our democracy is a supreme value. An independent, strong, judiciary is a supreme value. The preservation of human rights, for men and women alike, with a stress on minorities and the special, rich Israeli mosaic, are a supreme value. Yes, a diverse court system so that it is a home for all citizens of the state, is also a supreme value. And a healthy, stable and clear relationship between the branches of government is also a supreme value.”
Says the president: “This is a possible formula. This is a formula within our grasp.”
“You don’t destroy the [national] home over a small gap, however critical,” he says.
Herzog says opposition and coalition lawmakers must put their egos aside immediately and work together.
“To the leaders of the state, to the coalition and the government at its head, I say, we are at the point of no return. It is a moment of to be or not to be — to choose agreement and to achieve a foundational constitutional moment, that will enable us to thrive and grow for years and generations to come, or to slide into a constitutional, security, social and economic abyss.”
“If you choose to continue down the path you’ve walked so far, the chaos will be on you. History will judge you. Take responsibility, now,” he concludes.
President Isaac Herzog makes an emotional plea to the opposition and coalition to come together and agree on a compromise deal on the judicial overhaul before the nation is torn apart.
“I will not give up — I will pay any price to find a solution,” Herzog says in a primetime address while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is out of the country.
Herzog says he has been “working around the clock for 10 weeks” in an attempt to bridge the gaps.
The current legislation advancing through the Knesset “needs to be discarded now and forever,” he says. Those bills are “wrong, oppressive and endanger our democratic foundations. They must be replaced immediately with a different, agreed-upon plan.”
Opposition leaders rushed to denounce National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai for apparently ousting the Tel Aviv police district chief from his position.
“There has never been such a disgrace in the history of the country,” says opposition leader Yair Lapid of the announcement that Amichai Eshed would become the head of the police training division. “The Tik Tok clown fires an outstanding officer in the police because there is not enough blood or violence in the streets.”
Ben Gvir denies that Eshed was ousted and claims that his new appointment was scheduled in advance.
National Unity party chief Benny Gantz tweets that Ben Gvir is “politically cleansing” police commanders. “I’m calling on Netanyahu to fire Ben Gvir before he destroys the police and the rule of law.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has removed the Tel Aviv police chief from his position and assigned him to a new role, following a day of protests.
According to a joint statement from Ben Gvir and the Israel Police, Tel Aviv district chief Amichai Eshed will be appointed as the head of the police training division.
Ben Gvir has complained that police have not taken a tough enough hand against protesters who have repeatedly blocked major highways, in particular the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. According to reports, Ben Gvir fumed against Eshed’s actions and felt police were not following his orders. TV reports claimed that Eshed fumed after he was informed of the upcoming move.
Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai signed off on the change — as he must for any such major personnel shift.
Eshed was reportedly on vacation during a major Tel Aviv protest last week when police used stun grenades and water cannons against protesters; earlier today, protests were broken up without major clashes or the use of either measure.
Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s eldest son, accuses police brass of engaging in a “rebellion,” in his latest social media outburst.
“It’s important to understand that a few thousand anarchists don’t have the strength to block a single central road,” Yair Netanyahu writes on Twitter, echoing language the premier and government supporters have used to describe the protesters. “The police and prosecutorial brass are the ones actually carrying out the road closures every few days.”
“They are truly responsible for the chaos here,” he adds, accusing them of acting “out of malice.”
He also claims without proof that the Israel Police and State Attorney’s Office are “fully cooperating with the anarchists, at the expense of the Israeli nation.”
ROME — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lands in Rome, where he is slated to meet with his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni tomorrow.
Netanyahu took a helicopter from Jerusalem to the airport earlier today due to mass anti-government protests aimed at blocking off the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport to prevent his trip.
The prime minister has faced criticism that he and his wife, Sara, are once again spending a weekend in a European city on the public’s dime after a Friday meeting.
President Isaac Herzog announces he will be delivering an address to the nation at 8 p.m. this evening.
Herzog has emerged as a key figure in recent weeks in calling for and hosting dialogue to work toward a compromise on the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently on an official visit to Italy.
Protesters turn out to demonstrations at bridges and intersections around the country against the government’s judicial shakeup plans, as the “day of resistance” continues.
Karkur Junction in the north, a main street in the central city of Ness Ziona, parts of the Coastal Highway, a major street in Rehovot and other main thoroughfares are reportedly blocked by rallies.
Police say 22 protesters were arrested this morning and afternoon in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
National Unity party MK Matan Kahana suggests that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to rein in the coalition lawmakers chiefly responsible for the judicial shakeup plans.
“Netanyahu is the legal and only prime minister in Israel, his photo was hung up in my office 10 minutes after he was sworn in,” Kahana tells Army Radio in an apparent rejection of protesters who view Netanyahu as an illegitimate leader.
“He needs to call Levin and Rothman and tell them — you’re tearing apart the country, history will not forgive you,” Kahana adds of Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Israel Air Force reservist pilot Col. Gilad Peled says he will appeal a decision to oust him from the IAF, which accused him of leading reservists’ calls to not show up for duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul.
Speaking to the Haaretz daily after the announcement, Peled denies coordinating the pilots’ refusal to show up for duty. He tells the paper there is “no truth” to the claim that he was acting against the orders of the IAF chief.
In an interview with Army Radio, Peled says he intends to appeal the decision and will ask to speak with IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar again. “I hope that his mistake will become clear to him.”
Incidents of white supremacists distributing propaganda in the US hit a record high last year, according to a new report.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism tallied 6,751 incidents of white supremacist propaganda in 2022. The figure marked a 38 percent increase over the previous year.
The propaganda activity included the mass distribution of material targeting Jews, the LGBTQ community and other minority groups.
Recorded incidents of antisemitic propaganda more than doubled from 352 incidents in 2021 to 852 last year. There were 219 incidents on school campuses, mostly colleges, a decrease from previous years.
White supremacist propaganda was reported in every state except Hawaii. The states with the most incidents were Texas, Massachusetts and Virginia.
Bank Hapoalim, one of Israeli’s largest lenders, posts a record net profit of NIS 6.5 billion ($1.82 billion) in 2022 as interest rates soar, fueling total income.
Net profit in 2022 rose 33% to NIS 6.5 billion from NIS 4.9 billion the previous year. Total income last year rose by 24.5% from 2021, boosted by the rise in interest rates and higher inflation, Hapoalim says in a statement.
The Bank of Israel has steadily hiked the benchmark interest rate from a low of 0.1% last April as it battles rising inflation, last raising its key lending rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 percent in February.
Hapoalim’s credit portfolio grew by 10.2% for the full year of 2022. Net interest income in 2022 jumped 37% versus the previous year.
“2022 began with deceleration of global economic activity, due to the war in Ukraine, and continued with mounting local and global uncertainty fueled by rising inflation and interest rates, in Israel and worldwide,” says Bank Hapoalim President and CEO Dov Kotler. “The Israeli economy continued to demonstrate its resilience, even during a time of growing uncertainty.”
“Over the last year, we continued the responsible growth of our credit portfolio, particularly in corporate and commercial credit and in housing loans, and helped our customers cope with increased mortgage payments,” Kotler adds.
Net profit in the fourth quarter of 2022 almost doubled to NIS 1.75 billion from NIS 934 million during the same period last year. The results were driven by the “continuous growth in business activity and a high contribution of the increase in central bank rates, as well as a high contribution of the CPI,” Hapoalim says.
Far-right Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni condemns antisemitic graffiti directed at her main rival, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on his way to Italy for his first trip since Meloni’s victory last year.
The graffiti, which included a swastika, appeared on a wall in the city of Viterbo and was directed at Elly Schlein, the new leader of the opposition Democratic Party. Schlein, whose American father is Jewish, has been the target of antisemitic attacks throughout her political career.
In a statement, Meloni expresses solidarity with Schlein, calling her a victim of a “shameful and indecent act,” and saying the “offensive” graffiti “is to be condemned with absolute firmness.”
US defense chief ‘disturbed’ by West Bank clashes, settler attacks; urges consensus on judicial changes
Speaking at a press conference near Ben Gurion Airport, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he discussed with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the need to restore calm amid rising violence in the West Bank.
Austin says he told Gallant “about the need to deescalate and lower tensions and restore calm.”
The US defense chief says he is “disturbed” by moves that may increase tensions in the West Bank, as well as settler attacks against Palestinians.
“We also call on the Palestinian leadership to combat terrorism, resume coordination and condemn incitement,” Austin adds.
Speaking before Austin, Gallant says that “Israel seeks stability and security” in the West Bank and also works to improve “the well-being of the Palestinian people.”
“But this should never come at the expense of the life of a single citizen of Israel,” Gallant says. “In the face of terrorism we will be determined, concise, and powerful,” he adds.
Austin also notes Israel’s judicial overhaul, mass protests against which impacted his visit.
“I must make something very clear: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad and it’s going to stay that way,” Austin says. He says the relationship between the US and Israel is “rooted in the shared values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.”
Noting recent remarks from US President Joe Biden, Austin says Israel and the US “are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and a strong judiciary.”
“An independent judicial system is an important part of democracy. A broad consensus must be achieved for fundamental changes in the judicial system in order for them to remain sustainable,” he adds.
Thirty-six former IDF generals — including former chiefs of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shaul Mofaz — sign a letter against calls for reservists to refuse to show up for duty in protest of the government’s judicial shakeup plans.
In the letter, the generals call to “leave the IDF out of political disagreements [to allow it to remain] the people’s army, in light of the security challenges facing the State of Israel.”
The generals call on reservist commanders and soldiers to continue to answer the call of duty, since “the source of the reserve army’s strength rests on the spirit of volunteerism of reserve soldiers in times of both routine and emergency.”
Seventy-three progressive Jewish organizations in the US sign a pledge not to host Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in the latest petition ahead of the far-right Religious Zionism chairman’s visit to Washington next week to speak at an Israel Bonds conference.
Organizations signing on to the pledge organized by the Progressive Israel Network include the Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which together represent the majority of US Jewry.
Signatories pledge “to shut the door to Smotrich in light of his virulently racist and homophobic stances and are encouraging the entire Jewish community to follow suit,” according to a statement from organizers.
“This move marks the first time in American Jewish history that a minister in the Israeli government — a member of the security cabinet — will be met with closed doors by so many in the organized American Jewish community,” organizers say.
“It is clear that the vast majority of American Jews want to tell Netanyahu’s Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, to go home. His racist and discriminatory policies, extremist and violent rhetoric, and the plan he supports to crush Israel’s democratic institutions have no place here.”
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a key architect of the judicial overhaul plans, is blocked from taking part in a meeting with attorneys in Tel Aviv.
Rothman was slated to attend alongside opposition MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), but due to the number of protesters outside the Israel Bar Association office in central Tel Aviv, police requested the MK not attend. Rothman will instead participate via Zoom.
The Knesset sergeant-at-arms requested that Rothman not attend due to threats against him and his security detail, the MK’s office says.
Eight protesters have been arrested so far in Jerusalem, say police, though all but one have already been released.
A Jerusalem police spokesman says that one demonstrator was arrested outside the Supreme Court for “attacking a police officer.”
Separately, seven people were detained, questioned and then released over a protest at the offices of the Kohelet think tank — a leading force in the government’s judicial shakeup plan — which included them placing sandbags and barbed wire at the office entrance in the Givat Shaul neighborhood.
In Tel Aviv, 15 protesters were detained as police cleared the Ayalon Highway which was blocked by hundreds of demonstrators. Though police brought a water cannon to the site, they ultimately did not use it.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of continuing to lie about efforts to hold dialogue between the government and opposition on its judicial shakeup plans.
“Even on the steps of the plane, on his way to a wasteful and unncessary weekend on the country’s dime, Netanyahu cannot stop lying,” Lapid says in a statement as the prime minister departs for Rome.
“The government did not agree to any dialogue attempt, and it is continuing to push through legislation that will turn us into a messianic, extremist and undemocratic country,” Lapid adds. “The only anarchists in this story are senior ministers in the government who are trying to set the country alight.”
Departing for a weekend in Rome, Netanyahu claimed that all government attempts at dialogue have been “completely rejected by the opposition and its attempts to drag the country into anarchy.”
After meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the meeting was “important and comprehensive.”
He adds that he deeply appreciates US President Joe Biden’s and Austin’s commitment to Israel’s security.
“If there is anyone in Tehran who thinks that they can progress toward a nuclear bomb, they are mistaken,” he says.
He says he sees a shift in the US and Western attitude to Iran in recent months to a more aggressive stance that needs to intensify further, saying that this will be at the center of his conversations in Rome and other European capitals.
He also speaks about the ongoing protests around judicial overhaul plans.
“All of our efforts at dialogue have been met with total refusal from the opposition and attempts to bring the country to anarchy,” he says, adding that he won’t let the opposition bring down Israel’s democratically elected government – their true goal, he claims.
“We won’t let anyone disrupt Israel’s democracy and cancel the decision of the majority in Israel, as expressed in the recent elections,” he concludes.
Nearly three days after Aleppo International Airport was shuttered after its runway was damaged in an airstrike attributed to Israel, Syria’s Transportation Ministry announces it will reopen tomorrow.
In a statement carried by the state-run SANA news agency, the ministry says repair works have been completed after the early Tuesday morning strike, and the airport will begin flights tomorrow at 8 a.m. local.
Yesterday, an Israeli satellite firm published images showing damage caused to the runway.
A crowd of protesters shout at and scuffle with Israel Police officer Meir Suissa — the cop who threw a stun grenade at a similar rally last week — in Tel Aviv.
Protesters scream at Suissa: “You threw stun grenades at innocent people, shame!”
Police forcibly escort a protester off of Menachem Begin Street; the man is red-faced and short of breath when allowed to briefly stand and speak to Suissa.
Protesters are filing off the Ayalon Highway as police clear the remaining people blocking the thoroughfare.
Police say traffic on the highway has reopened in both directions, and that 15 protesters had been arrested for disturbing public order.
Eitan Gozani, 35, one of the protesters on the highway, says protesters cleared the way because the police surrounded them.
“It ended pretty easily. One person threatened to use the water cannons, but nothing happened,” he says.
Gilad and Bar, two 20-something protesters, say the police pushed them and threatened to use water cannons.
“The ones with helmets, without tags, they’re the ones who pushed us around,” says Gilad, showing a scratch on his bicep.
Protester Yisrael, in his 40s, says that blocking the road “was revenge, because last week they threw stun grenades.”
His friend Yasmin, who attended the protest with him, says that stun grenades were “inappropriate and illegal” to use under the circumstances.
The blockade of Ben Gurion Airport aimed at stopping or delaying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from heading to Italy appears to have come to an end.
Netanyahu flew from Jerusalem via helicopter to the airport, where he met US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin who changed his plans due to the protests.
An airport sources tells Army Radio that it was a challenging morning but all flights departed as scheduled.
At the start of his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the US and Israel “have a shared agenda — to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon, to stop Iranian aggression, to protect regional security and prosperity, and to expand the circle of peace.”
Netanyahu is joined by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Chief of Staff Tzachi Braverman, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Military Secretary Avi Gil.
Police have brought a water cannon down to the Ayalon Highway to clear remaining protesters blocking the road.
Among the crowd gathered on the overpass above are several Israelis whose bus was stopped by traffic and came down to observe the demonstrations.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 9, 2023
“Right now? No, I don’t think they should use it,” says Matan Cohen, 22, from Kiryat Ono.
“Now there’s no traffic,” because police have now blocked lower sections of the road. “There’s no reason to hurt people.”
Cohen stresses, though, that he expects there to be the same treatment for largely secular and ultra-Orthodox protesters, the latter of whom have frequently met water cannons.
“If they need to use it, they need to use it. Right now, no,” says Cohen.
Once again police officers in Tel Aviv are filmed using physical force against unarmed protesters rallying against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
In one clip, police are seen putting a protester in a chokehold and wrestling him to the ground as others surround them chanting “shame!”
Protestors in Tel Aviv share this video of a forceful police arrest of a demonstrator in the anti-government protests in the city, close to the blocked Ayalon highway.
Protestors shout "Shame" at the police officers making the arrest… pic.twitter.com/TeChpiOjwj
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) March 9, 2023
Alona Sa’ar, an actress and the daughter of opposition MK Gideon Sa’ar, tells the Kan public broadcaster that she was punched by police officers when she tried to intervene as one officer “was choking a protester.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 9, 2023
Thirteen-year-old Goni asked her father to come to today’s demonstration, one of several she’s attended in the past 10 weeks to protest the government’s intended judicial overhaul.
“It’s my future,” the middle-school student says.
Goni says that the government’s telegraphed policies and weakened judicial recourse worry her, and her father Eran, 51, let the Tel Aviv-based teenager skip school to demonstrate.
“This reform touches me really closely. With education, matriculation exams, what I need to learn, and if I need to take an exam on the Bible to graduate,” she says.
Longer term, Goni is concerned about women’s rights and, watching the economy falter, she wonders if when she’s older, “I won’t have a job in Israel.”
The chief of the Israeli Air Force has dismissed a reservist fighter pilot leading calls to refuse to show up for training over the government’s judicial overhaul, Channel 12’s investigative show “Uvda” reports.
The officer is identified as Col. “Gimmel,” who can only be named by the initial of his first name in Hebrew. The reservist pilot gave interviews with Channel 13 news and the Kan public broadcaster last week.
The reported move comes after 37 out of 40 pilots from the IAF’s 69th Squadron said they would boycott yesterday’s day of training in protest of the judicial overhaul.
אלוף משנה במיל׳ ג׳, לשעבר מפקד בכיר בחיל האוויר, טייס קרב עשרות שנים וממארגני מחאת טייסי המילואים בחיל האוויר הודח מהחיל בשל פעילותו. בשבוע שעבר ראיינו אותו ב5. pic.twitter.com/kLXFguuaR8
— Or Heller אור הלר (@OrHeller) March 9, 2023
Eliad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government (MQG), one of the leading protest movements against the coalition’s judicial overhaul program, says negotiations with the government for a compromise solution to the current political crisis can only begin if 10 uncompromising conditions are met.
Shraga’s conditions include the adoption of a constitution “in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence”; the passage of a bill of rights to ensure equality “in rights and obligations”; a clear separation of powers and formulation of checks and balances; an independent judicial selection committee that is not controlled by politicians; mechanisms to prevent someone on trial or convicted of serious crimes from serving in government; guarantees for the independence of the attorney general and government legal advisers; and no expansion of authorities for the rabbinical courts.
“This is the most important struggle in the history of the country. We will not conduct negotiations over the rule of law and the supremacy of the law,” says Shraga at an event outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.
Shraga, who presented his proposals and a draft constitution drawn up by MQG to President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday night, also dismisses several compromise proposals made recently which he says would undermine democracy in Israel.
Former Supreme Court justice Ayala Procaccia, who is also present at the event, insists that good-faith negotiations cannot be conducted while the government drives ahead with the legislative process for its radical judicial reforms, but says both sides need to be open to negotiations.
“We will never agree to live in a country that is not just, fair, and human,” says Procaccia.
Activists from LGBTQ organization Hoshen block cars on Menachem Begin Street in Tel Aviv, after being blocked by police officers from marching on the Ayalon Highway.
Laura, a 20-something who works for Hoshen, dismissed criticism from some in the crowd nearby that their protest is inconveniencing ordinary citizens.
“It’s a day of resistance. We announced it last week and everyone who came with a car into central Tel Aviv should have known,” she says.
Asked why it was so important for her and her colleagues to be here today, Laura says she is worried about the composition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, especially far-right members who have swatted away LGBTQ civil rights.
“This reform already hurts us,” Laura says, pointing to fear in the LGBTQ education community, of which Hoshen is a main player.
Referring to MK Avi Maoz, who until recently was slated to take over an Education Ministry unit overseeing contractors like Hoshen that provide content to public schools, Laura adds: “There are people in this coalition who want to prevent specifically our organization from coming to schools.”
“Schools are asking for us less,” she claims. “We’re here to protest.”
The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin begins next to Ben Gurion Airport.
Austin delayed his trip and will stay in and near the airport due to anti-government protesters attempting to block Ben Gurion Airport.
Protesters against the judicial overhaul block the Ayalon highway in both directions in Tel Aviv, including a handful in cars and many waving Israeli flags.
Police say in a statement that they are preparing to clear the area.
Protestors against the governments judicial overhaul program blocking the Ayalon in Tel Aviv… pic.twitter.com/UcHafIM665
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) March 9, 2023
Mounted police move into the area in an attempt to move the protesters. Officers begin to carry some demonstrators out of the area.
Despite police warnings, crowds continue to stream into the area.
Observing them from HaShalom bridge, dozens of protesters cheer those blocking the highway on and shout “good job!”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant greets his American counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of a meeting.
The pair will hold a meeting and issue a statement to the press from the nearby Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters. They will not leave the airport area due to ongoing mass protests against the government’s judicial overhaul.
Protesters are blocking the entrance to the airport, as well as other main roads across the country.
Demonstrators in Tel Aviv say that a police officer choked a protester during a scuffle at a protest against the judicial overhaul.
It is unclear what preceded the incident.
Actress Alona Sa’ar, who witnessed the incident, tells the Kan public broadcaster that she was hit during the incident.
“He really choked him,” says Sa’ar, the daughter of National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, a former justice minister.
“I don’t want to live in a dictatorship. I don’t want to live in fucking Iran,” she says.
An Abraham Accords Media Forum scheduled for March 14-16 in Abu Dhabi that journalists from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and other Middle Eastern countries were set to attend was postponed.
The Forum was arranged by the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and was intended to bring together media influencers for a workshop and discussion on how to strengthen people-to-people relations in the region.
The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not provide the reason for the postponement.
Lloyd Austin lands at Ben Gurion Airport ahead of his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, the Kan news broadcaster reports.
Netanyahu is scheduled to take off for Rome at 2 p.m., but that timeline seems highly unlikely.
Instead of Jerusalem or the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Austin’s meetings will be held at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters, adjacent to the airport.
There is heavy congestion at the entrance to the airport as a convoy of protesters blocks the area.
Protest heads have specifically called for demonstrators to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport when Netanyahu and his wife are scheduled to depart on their flight to Italy early this afternoon.
In an interview published today in the Italian daily la Repubblica, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for Rome to “recognize Jerusalem has been the ancestral capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.”
He addresses the ongoing protests against judicial reform, saying that they “are a natural part of this confrontation, but I believe we will overcome them.”
“Democracy is not at risk and will be strengthened by a reform of the judiciary, considered necessary by an overwhelming part of the population,” says Netanyahu.
He also hints at some flexibility on his part, saying “the extent and scope of the reform will be determined in the coming weeks.”
Netanyahu pledges that his government “will remain true to civil rights, minority rights and democracy,” and that his Likud party guides policy on security and foreign affairs, not his right-wing allies.
“Ben Gvir and Smotrich joined Likud, not the opposite,” he says.
Netanyahu also says that he is ready to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but accuses him of not being willing.
Officer who lobbed stun grenade into crowd at earlier protest back on duty at Tel Aviv demonstration
Footage broadcast from a Tel Aviv protest against the judicial overhaul is said to show the police officer who was investigated for hurling a stun grenade into a crowd at a demonstration last week.
The video from the Ayalon highway shows the officer at the front of the crowd, interacting with demonstrators who are attempting to reach the major thoroughfare and block it.
The officer took vacation rather than police the rally on Saturday night, but has now apparently returned to duty, according to the outlet.
A complaint was filed against the officer after a video showed him throwing a grenade into the center of a crowd of demonstrators last week, despite regulations against doing so.
מאיר סויסה ליידיז אנד ג׳נטס
(צילם: אמיר גולדשטיין) pic.twitter.com/TP6X8N6bNz
— Noga Lavi (@NogaLavi) March 1, 2023
Ben Gvir on opposition demand he stays out of police command center: ‘I’ll sit there whenever I want’
At Ben Gurion Airport’s Terminal 3, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tells Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site, that protesters are “trying to blackmail us with threats, protests, and blocked roads that will only be opened if there is no reform. It won’t matter. The reform will pass by the end of the month.”
Turning to attempts by opposition leaders to have him barred from sitting in the police command center, Ben Gvir says, “I will sit there whenever I want, exactly like [his predecessor] Omer Barlev sat there.”
Last Wednesday, Ben Gvir visited Tel Aviv police headquarters, ahead of the next day’s planned “day of disruption” organized by anti-overhaul activist groups. Critics alleged his presence influenced policing decisions.
“I’ve been protesting all my life, I know what protests are,” says Ben Gvir, who holds multiple convictions from his time as a far-right provocateur activist prior to his entrance to political life.
“I can teach them what protests are. But there are people that have to reach the airport and you can’t prevent them,” Ben Gvir.
TBILISI, Georgia — Georgia’s ruling party announces it is halting plans to introduce a controversial “foreign agent” bill after mass rallies against the legislation seen as reminiscent of Russian legislation used to silence critics.
Concern has been growing that the ex-Soviet nation, which aspires to join the EU and NATO, is taking an authoritarian turn and maintaining links with Moscow.
The announcement came after two days of large-scale protests, including a rally Wednesday that saw Georgian police fire water cannon and tear gas at thousands of demonstrators and issue a dispersal order.
Ruling party Georgian Dream said in a statement the bill had been “represented in a bad light and in a misleading way,” adding that it would launch public consultations to “better explain” the law’s purpose after announcing its withdrawal.
A European Union delegation in Georgia immediately cheered the halt, saying they “encourage all political leaders in Georgia to resume pro-EU reforms.”
Massive crowds had gathered in front of the parliament building in central Tbilisi on Wednesday, holding EU and Georgian flags, and chanting “no to the Russian law.”
The protesters demanded authorities drop the bill on “transparency of foreign funding,” which critics said mirrors a law used in Russia to force media and dissenting groups to shut down.
Mounted police block judicial overhaul protesters from nearing the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv.
The line of police officers on horses block the road at Hashalom interchange.
Police and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir have vowed to prevent the blocking of the major thoroughfare.
Tens of thousands of protesters are marching through Tel Aviv, and around the country, to demonstrate against the government’s plan to neuter the judicial system.
Ireland will be withdrawing its forces from a UN peacekeeping force between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, Irish officials say.
In a statement, Irish defense minister Micheál Martin informs the government that the 130 infantry troops stationed on the Syrian side of the border as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) will be withdrawn in the near future.
Martin says the decision is made based on an “assessment of the sustainability of the [Irish military’s] overseas commitments.”
The exact date of the withdrawal will be discussed with UN officials.
The UNDOF monitors a 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. Its troops also include members from Nepal, India, Uruguay, Fiji, Ghana, the Czech Republic and Bhutan.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flight to Rome has been postponed an hour to 2 p.m.
The Prime Minister’s Office says the reason is his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who was forced to change the schedule of his own visit due to the protests against the judicial overhaul.
Instead of meeting Israeli officials in Jerusalem or at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, his meetings will be held at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters, adjacent to the airport.
There is heavy congestion at the entrance to the airport as a convoy of protesters blocks the area.
Protest heads have specifically called for demonstrators to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport when Netanyahu and his wife are scheduled to depart on their flight to Italy.
Heavy congestion is reported at the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport as a large convoy of vehicles blocks the area ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Italy.
Police are on the scene and trying to clear the area, with Hebrew-language media reports saying they have started to issue fines.
Police have said they will impound vehicles abandoned with the intention of hindering the flow of traffic.
Protest heads have specifically called for demonstrators to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport when Netanyahu and his wife are scheduled to depart on their flight to Italy. The premier is set to meet with far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the start of his three-day visit to Rome.
Police say officers have detained two suspects for alleged disorderly conduct amid protests against the judicial overhaul near Ra’anana.
A law enforcement spokesperson says officers dispersed a group of protesters who were blocking Ra’anana Junction.
“During the dispersal, police arrested two demonstrators on suspicion of disturbing the peace and the intersection was opened to traffic,” the spokesperson says.
Police say they will “continue to allow freedom of protest while maintaining public order.”
Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi throws his support behind anti-judicial overhaul protesters.
“I want as many Arabs and Jews as possible to take part in these protests,” the senior Arab lawmaker tells Army Radio.
Arab politicians have taken a backseat over the past 10 weeks of public protest against the coalition’s plan to curtail the judiciary and increase political power, but are becoming more vocal on the subject.
Tens of thousands of protesters march against the judicial overhaul at rallies across the country.
A number of major interchanges are blocked and there have been at least 10 people detained by police so far.
In addition, naval reservists have blockaded Haifa Port, preventing movement of marine traffic in the area.
Demonstrators have also gathered as part of the “day of resistance” at Tel Aviv’s central Habima Square, where they have signed a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Critics have said the coalition’s proposals will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.
Though protesters pledged to disrupt operations around Ben Gurion Airport – especially with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slated to take off to Rome at 1 p.m. – things are calm so far inside the terminals.
Trains are arriving on time, and the airport seems no less chaotic than it does on any other day.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir arrives at the airport for a briefing at the police’s forward command center there.
Protest heads have specifically called for demonstrators to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport when Netanyahu and his wife are scheduled to depart on their flight to Italy. The premier is set to meet with far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the start of his three-day visit to Rome.
The trip previously faced setbacks when national carrier El Al was initially unable to find a crew to man the prime minister’s flight — an issue blamed on crew shortages but that may have also been affected by growing public anger at the government as it pushed forward with efforts to weaken the justice system.
The Israel Airports Authority called on travelers flying out of the country today to arrive early at Ben Gurion Airport, in anticipation of the disruptions.
Opposition party leader MK Benny Gantz petitions the attorney general to prevent National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir from entering police command center during today’s demonstrations, saying that Ben Gvir gives inappropriate commands.
“Minister Ben Gvir calls the demonstrators ‘anarchists’ and gives orders to police commanders in an illicit manner,” Gantz writes in his petition, asking Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to also block the police minister from any involvement in the demonstrations and from giving instructions to police brass.
Ben Gvir has pledged that action will be taken against protesters who block roads, as is again expected during today’s protests.
Last week, the police used water cannons and stun grenades against Tel Aviv protesters for the first time in this series of anti-judicial overhaul protests, injuring 11.
Last Wednesday, Ben Gvir visited the Tel Aviv police headquarters, ahead of the planned “day of disruption” organized by anti-overhaul activist groups. Critics alleged his presence influenced policing decisions.
Gantz also charges Ben Gvir with making “political use of the Israel Police and its facilities.”
In their first public statement after 10 weeks of protest, more than 1,000 senior Likud party members sign a petition backing the coalition’s judicial overhaul plan.
The petition calls the proposal to increase political power at the expense of the judiciary “a historic opportunity to restore the broken balance” among governance branches.
The signatories are members of the Likud’s nearly 4,000-member Central Committee, which plays a role in internal party decision-making, as well as party branch heads.
During a sweeping protest bringing tens of thousands of Israelis to the street today to demonstrate against the coalition’s efforts, the petition calls for the overhaul to continue.
Yesterday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin met with a team developing a potential framework to soften the reform. A think tank and leading scholars sharply criticized the framework, saying it adopts almost all of the government’s proposals and would severely damage Israel’s democratic character.
Police say officers have detained an additional four suspects for placing sandbags and barbed wire at the entrance to the offices of the Kohelet Forum, a conservative think tank deeply involved in the government’s controversial push to overhaul the country’s judiciary.
Earlier, two activists were taken by police for questioning over the incident in Jerusalem.
The act was carried out by Brothers in Arms, a protest group representing reservist soldiers and officers.
Police say officers have detained four suspects for alleged disorderly conduct amid protests against the judicial overhaul at the Hakfar Hayarok Interchange in Tel Aviv.
Demonstrators are rallying across the country against the government’s controversial plans.
Protesters are blocking marine traffic at the Haifa port during the “day of disruption” against the government’s judicial overhaul.
The Brothers in Arms protest group, representing reservist soldiers and officers, say “in a dictatorship, the sea is closed.”
“For decades we have been sailing day and night and guarding the main lifeline of the State of Israel,” the group says.
“We reserve soldiers, in the missile ships and the routine security ships, the submarine crews, and the naval commandos for generations, are working even now to keep the State of Israel’s maritime borders and its shipping lanes open,” it says.
“We chose to disrupt operations at Haifa port to call in a clear voice to the Israeli government to stop the uncontrolled voyage that will cause the State of Israel to run aground,” the group adds.
A number of former senior naval officers are involved in the protest.
המשט מול נמל חיפה הבוקר – מחאת אחים לנשק pic.twitter.com/UzVggyBHj7
— לירי בורק שביט (@lirishavit) March 9, 2023
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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