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Police release 37 of 38 arrested at Tel Aviv protests

MK calls for probe, claiming police ‘crossed the line’ at anti-PM protests

Yesh Atid’s Shelah says Knesset State Control Committee will discuss reports of excessive violence by law enforcement; urges protesters not to pay fines

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A prominent opposition lawmaker said Saturday evening that he will convene a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee on the conduct of police at protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Police conduct in tonight’s demonstrations crossed the reasonable line,” Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said in a statement. “At the first opportunity I will convene the State Control Committee for a thorough inquiry into this bizarre policy.”

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested across the country after the passage of contentious legislation this week that banned mass demonstrations as part of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Socially distanced rallies were held in hundreds of locations throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, though at times orderly conduct gave way to chaotic scenes of clashes between protesters and police, and reports of fines given on a questionable basis.

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shelah, who has announced he is challenging party leader Yair Lapid, has attended anti-Netanyahu protests in the past.

“The behavior of the police tonight is a direct result of the madness of Bibi’s war on demonstrations, and the total capitulation of Blue and White to this madness,” he said.

“The answer is to increase oversight, and one more thing: Do not pay the fines. Choose to stand trial. We’ll see them bring thousands of protesters to court. I and every honest elected public official will be there to fight for you,” Shelah said.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Demonstrators alleged that police used excessive force, and footage showed protesters being shoved or punched.

A police statement said 38 people were arrested in Tel Aviv alone for “violating public order and attacking police officers.” Four people were arrested in Jerusalem for allegedly violating the lockdown order.

On Sunday morning police said that all of those arrested in Tel Aviv had been released with the exception of one person who remained in custody on suspicion of assaulting an officer.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich said that the protestors were “anarchist criminals who do not like the law and democratic decision-making.

“You are a violent and arrogant minority, who have become accustomed to feeling that you are the lords of the land, above the law and above democracy,” tweeted Smotrich, who was arrested in 2005 for his role in the opposition to the government policy of the disengagement from Gaza.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenary session at the Knesset, on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Protesters on Saturday seemed to be widely using protective masks, but a police statement said they were intentionally breaching social distancing rules and regulations on the sizes of gatherings.

Police said in a statement that “many protesters disturbed order, blocked roads, ignored the instructions of officers and resorted to physical and verbal violence. A large majority overtly broke the emergency regulations when they gathered with no distancing, not wearing masks and endangering public health.”

They were reported to be checking the addresses of protesters to ensure they were no more than a kilometer from their homes.

Additionally there were reports of fines issued to journalists, despite them being classified as essential workers who are allowed to travel further from their homes for work.

One of the groups organizing the demonstrations, the “Black Flags” movement, said “conservative” data from its ground operatives indicated that over 100,000 people protested throughout the country.

The figure would make the demonstrations collectively the largest yet held since the protest movement gathered steam over the summer, fueled by anger at Netanyahu, who has refused to step down despite being on trial for graft, and at his government’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The claim of 100,000 participants was not confirmed independently, but media reports indicated Saturday’s demonstrations were larger than those seen over the past months.

Several incidents of violence against demonstrators were reported, with several requiring hospitalization. An 81-year-old woman was said to have been shoved to the ground in Jerusalem, but her condition was not immediately known. In northern Tel Aviv, protesters said a woman was assaulted and wounded. She was taken to the city’s Ichilov Medical Center. Police arrested the suspected assailant, as well as two other activists, with the former claiming they attacked him first.

Channel 13 reported that in Pardes Hannah, a protester’s arm was broken by an attacker, while in Holon and Ramat Gan, glass bottles were hurled at demonstrators.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted that attacks on protesters were “unacceptable” and called on police to bring the culprits to justice. Opposition leader Lapid said the attacks were the result of “the poisonous incitement by Netanyahu and his gang… They are responsible.”

People protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen’s house in the Beit HaKerem neighborhood of Jerusalem, on October 3, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

New measures passed last week bar Israelis from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes to protest and limit demonstrations to socially distanced groups of 20, although they apparently also allow for multiple groups of 20 people in areas with sufficient space for social distancing between the groups.

The approval of the restrictions was seen as a blow to the weekly demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

However, Saturday’s mass turnout throughout the country indicated it may have only served to further galvanize opposition to Netanyahu.

AFP contributed to this report.

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