'They started whipping me. They just ambushed me'

Mounted police officer beats protester at anti-overhaul demonstration in Tel Aviv

Videos show officer striking young woman several times as demonstrators yell ‘shame’; police claim victim, a therapeutic riding instructor, struck horse, she ridicules accusation

A mounted police officer is seen striking a young woman during a protest against the judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Apil 1, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter, Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A mounted police officer is seen striking a young woman during a protest against the judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Apil 1, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter, Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A mounted police officer beat a young woman with what appeared to be a whip during a mass protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night against the government’s temporarily paused judicial overhaul plans.

In widely circulating footage of the incident, two mounted police officers close in on a young woman and young man carrying signs on the Ayalon Highway and push them back when one of the officers strikes the woman in the upper body. Protesters who witnessed and documented the police violence shouted at the officers to stop and argued with them about the use of force.

They appeared to be among the hundreds of protesters who briefly blocked the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv at several points throughout the evening, before being removed by police.

Nineteen demonstrators were arrested.

In videos from the incident, the mounted officer is shown striking the woman, Yael Reuveny, one time to knock the cardboard sign from her hands and then delivering another blow across her shoulder and upper arm, to which she cries out in pain. The man next to her then puts his arm around her shoulders, while shouting at the officers, and leads her crying to a group of protesters across the way who begin yelling “shame!” at the police.

In one clip, the mounted officer is seen pushing back Reuveny, who is a riding instructor, and she puts up her hands and the cardboard sign to put distance between herself and the horse.

Police claimed in response to the footage that the woman struck the horse in the head and the officer responded accordingly.

No such action was seen in the videos of the incident.

“The last thing I would do is raise my hand at a horse,” she said Sunday. “Not against a horse or against a person, for that matter.”

Yael Reuveny (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“After being warned that this was an illegal demonstration and that force would be used, two protesters waved protest signs and a flag pole at the head of a police horse, in a way that endangered the horse, the rider, and the protesters themselves,” police said in a statement Saturday. “The officer pushed the protester away using reasonable force.”

Police also said it was not the first time that protesters allegedly struck horses with flag poles and circulated a photo showing an injury to a horse on the side of its body.

Police said a horse was injured by protesters at the anti-overhaul demonstration in Tel Aviv, on April 1, 2023. (Israel Police)

Reuveny, 24, later recounted the incident to Ynet: “I was on the Ayalon and we started walking back. Suddenly a policeman came with a horse, pushed me, and at the same time another mounted police officer came and stood in front of me, so I was trapped between them. And then he just started hitting me.”

“I didn’t do anything to him,” said Reuveny. “I tried to move and he blocked me with another mounted officer, and the horse stepped on me. They started whipping me. They just ambushed me,” she went on.

“They beat me in the shoulder and on the elbow of a hand that was broken,” she said, explaining that she had recently broken her hand in a car accident. “I’m on my way to Ichilov [Hospital].”

In response to the police statement, Reuveny said the picture released by the police “is exactly where the rider’s leg is with a spur on it, and when used strongly it injures the horse. It is ridiculous that they are accusing me of doing this.”

“Horses are my whole life,” she said. “I have been riding since I was a little girl. For the past nine years, I’ve also been an instructor, and for the past three years a therapeutic riding instructor. This is a completely denied claim. To beat a horse or wave a flag over a horse? Come on, seriously. I work with horses, there is no way I would do anything to a horse.”

In a tweet late Saturday, the health reporter for the public broadcaster Kan, Nov Reuveny, disclosed that Reuveny was his younger sibling and he hoped the “bully who trampled my little sister tonight and then beat her with the whip again and again” would not be able to sleep for many nights “because of shame.”

Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated throughout the country on Saturday in a sign that the massive protest movement against the judicial overhaul remained strong even as the coalition has paused the legislation to allow dialogue on its highly divisive efforts to weaken the justice system.

With opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highly distrustful of his overtures — and some coalition members vowing to soon pick up right where they left off — protesters are demanding that instead of pausing the legislation to weaken the courts and politicize judge selection, the coalition shelve the bills completely.

The main rally was held for the 13th straight weekend on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street and Azrieli Junction, which were filled to the brim with demonstrators. Media reports indicated at least 170,000 and up to some 200,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, while tens of thousands more rallied in 150 locations across the country. Protest organizers claimed over 400,000 demonstrated nationwide, though such figures could not be corroborated.

In a new development, many demonstrators at Saturday’s Tel Aviv protest also waved American flags alongside Israeli ones, to voice their support for the US on a week that saw US President Joe Biden express his opposition to the Israeli government’s conduct, which led the right to lash out at Washington.

A protester holds an American flag at a rally against the Israeli government’s plan to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

At the rally in Jerusalem on Saturday, world-renowned author David Grossman said the architects of the shakeup had “made the mistake of their lives” in awakening Israel’s liberals into action.

Invoking a famous quote from the Haggadah of this week’s Passover holiday, Grossman said: “Why is this night different from other nights?”

“We have changed, we the demonstrators, the protesters,” he said. “We ourselves did not imagine the extent of love hidden inside us for the life that we’ve been able to create here in Israel.”

Grossman said the mass demonstrations have come as a shock to the judicial overhaul’s instigators, who have made “the mistake of their lives.”

Earlier, in Tel Aviv, a group of demonstrators play-acted the national guard forces proposed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, which critics have said could amount to the minister’s private militia.

A group of anti-government demonstrators play-act the national guard forces proposed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir ahead of a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on April 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The masked “troops” hold a goose-stepping display to the tune of Star Wars’ menacing “Imperial March.”

Amid the nationwide anti-overhaul protests, hundreds of pro-overhaul protesters demonstrated on Weizmann Street in the central city of Kfar Saba. The demonstrators called on the government to cease the compromise negotiations and carry on with its original controversial plans.

Opposition parties have been engaged in talks with the coalition mediated by President Isaac Herzog since Tuesday. Though talks are ongoing, few expect them to yield an agreement and trust in Netanyahu negotiating in good faith is exceedingly low.

Ahead of Saturday’s rallies, protest leaders likened the pause announced by Netanyahu on Monday to the situation in Poland in 2017, where the president silenced protests against a judicial overhaul with a veto and calls for unity, before the government later enacted almost identical legislation.

Netanyahu said he was suspending the legislation Monday as opposition to the judicial overhaul intensified with mass spontaneous protests seeing hundreds of thousands pouring into the streets, followed by a national strike, after his firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had warned about the security implications of the coalition’s proposals and called for a halt to allow for talks.

The premier indicated the “time-out” would last until the Knesset’s next session, beginning April 30, meaning the pause will mostly take place when the Knesset would be in recess anyway.

But he stressed the overhaul would end up passing “one way or another,” and the “lost balance” between the branches of government would be restored. “We will not give up on the path for which we were elected,” he vowed.

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