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Thousands protest PM; police clash with dozens who lit bonfire on Balfour Street

Several incidents of violence toward demonstrators reported on 27th weekend of rallies demanding Netanyahu’s resignation

Demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on December 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on December 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of people demonstrated outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem Saturday evening, demanding his resignation, on the 27th weekend of rallies against the premier.

Hundreds took part in a march from the city’s main entrance to Paris Square, the main site of the demonstrations.

Protesters held signs urging Netanyahu to “Go,” and declaring “We won’t stop protesting until you get out of our lives.”

Other protests took place throughout the country, including near the prime minister’s private home in Caesarea and at plazas, intersections and highway overpasses.

Several incidents of violence toward protesters were reported. In Rishon Lezion a man threatened demonstrators with a knife. In Giv’at Ada, near Caesarea, protesters said they were assaulted by several supporters of the prime minister. Police arrested a 17-year-old suspect.

Earlier, several dozen people clashed with police outside Netanyahu’s residence.

According to the Ynet news site, the demonstrators’ arrival hours before the usual protest time surprised police, and enabled them to come close to the entrance to the residence before cops had blocked it off.

The protesters seated themselves just outside the residence’s gates, with some carrying burning torches and lighting a bonfire at the scene.

Protesters were forcibly evacuated by officers and firefighters doused the flames they lit. Three people were arrested.

Police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on December 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Weekly protests against Netanyahu have held firm for over six months, with protesters demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. They have also criticized his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police and prosecutors to remove him from office.

The largest weekly demonstrations are held on Saturday evenings in Jerusalem across from the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.

Saturday night’s latest protests took place in the shadow of approaching elections. The Knesset dissolved on Tuesday after weeks of wrangling between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The demonstrations — a constant thorn in the side of the prime minister — bear a role in the move of the country to elections, protester Noam Guy told The Times of Israel.

“Of course it has been a success. Absolutely,” said Guy, a resident of Tel Aviv. Both Noam and his son Matti have been regular demonstrators at Balfour since the major protests against the prime minister began in July. “Never has there been a protest movement in Israel which has lasted six months, each weekend blocking the central road in the capital.

But the protesters — who mostly belong to the left and the center-left — were not sure whether the elections would necessarily bring in a government more to their liking. Current opinion polling shows hard-right Netanyahu rivals Gideon Sa’ar and Naftali Bennett as the most likely to benefit from the next round of elections — and they may even topple the long-reigning prime minister.

“I’m torn between this idea that ‘corruption is corruption’, and that the next election could bring in a far more right-wing government,” Ruth, a 30-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said.

“I truly hope Sa’ar won’t win. I’m still hoping that someone less right-wing…will win,” she added. But she said that she was ultimately deeply pessimistic about the outcome.

Other demonstrators said that anything would be better than the current Netanyahu government. While teenage protester Matti Guy described himself as left-wing, he said that he ultimately would prefer to see Sa’ar and Bennett in power than the indicted prime minister.

“Israel needs a government which seeks to protect its citizens from the pandemic… Bennett is far more extreme than Netanyahu, but he would at least be able to deal with the crisis,” Guy said.

Last week, protests were also held at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv and outside Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, where Netanyahu received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on live television Saturday evening, the first Israeli to be vaccinated. Smaller rallies also took place at highway overpasses and junctions around the country, as well as outside the Rosh Ha’ayin home of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on December 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recent weeks have seen numbers at the nation-wide rallies dwindle.

Netanyahu is also now battling for reelection, after the Knesset dissolved on Wednesday night, with the fourth elections in two years set for March 23.

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