Police clash with protesters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem at weekly Saturday night rallies

Protesters in both cities block major roads after speeches by hostages’ families; demonstrators in capital scuffle with police for first time since Oct. 7

  • Relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group block a road during a rally calling for their release, in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group block a road during a rally calling for their release, in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
  • Police try to disperse demonstrators blocking a road during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Police try to disperse demonstrators blocking a road during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
  • Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
    Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 16, 2024. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)
  • Demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. March 16, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. March 16, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Demonstrators call for the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Demonstrators call for the release of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Anti-government protesters blocked major roads and scuffled with police in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Saturday evening during weekly protests demanding new elections and an immediate hostage deal.

Interrupting traffic has become routine for anti-government demonstrators in Tel Aviv over the past few weeks. But Saturday marked the first time since October 7 that protesters in Jerusalem blocked the intersection at Paris Square, after speeches from family members of hostages held in Gaza.

Police quickly responded with force in both cities, dispersing the dozens of demonstrators blocking roads with horses, water cannons and physical removal, though they made only a few arrests.

In Jerusalem, protests began as usual outside the President’s Residence, where hundreds of demonstrators, activists and speakers with the protest group Safeguarding our Shared Home demanded new elections.

Tovah Sheleg, one of the protest organizers, criticized the government and accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies of fomenting chaos in every corner of Israeli life.

“Wherever you look, there is chaos. This is a result of policy. In fact, the chaos is the policy,” she said, demanding that the government “return its mandate to the people.”

In a loud bellow, screenwriter and reservist Beni Barbash warned against choosing the “path of Netanyahu and his government,” which he said will “lead to an abyss of corruption, degeneration and destruction.”

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life so that you and your offspring will live,” he said, citing Jewish scripture. “The choice, as always in Judaism, is in our hands. Elections now because of the war. Elections now, despite the war.”

Anti-government protesters gather outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem demanding new elections, March 26, 2024. (Courtesy: Safeguarding our Shared Home)

The demonstrators in Jerusalem also heard from ultra-Orthodox rabbi Bezalel Cohen, founder of the Chachmei Lev Yeshiva, who called for Haredi leaders to begin encouraging their communities to enlist to “defend the people and the country, out of a sense of partnership and brotherhood.”

Cohen spoke in the wake of the government’s sidelining of a plan for Haredi enlistment, presented last month by war cabinet member Benny Gantz and observer Gadi Eisenkot.

Haredi men of military age have been able to avoid the draft for decades by enrolling for study in yeshivas and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption.

After hearing from speakers, protesters marched without police confrontation to Paris Square, adjacent to Netanyahu’s official residence. There, family members of the hostages spoke to the crowd, publicly urging the government to reach a deal as soon as possible to bring their loved ones home after 162 days of captivity.

Evgenia Kozlov, the mother of Russian-Israeli Andrey Kozlov, who was kidnapped by Hamas while working as a security guard at the Supernova rave on October 7, spoke in Russian to the crowd alongside a Hebrew translator about how since the Hamas attack, she has done everything in her power to rescue her son.

“My life was ruined,” she said. “I don’t know Hebrew, I get help from my friend, Google Translate and Google Maps.”

Evgenia Kozlov, mother of Andrey Kozlov, one of the hostages in Hamas captivity, speaks to hostages rally on March 16, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

“Five months have passed, people are starting to forget, the wind has destroyed our posters… people are continuing with their lives… but we are still living in October 7,” Kozlov continued.

Mai Alvini-Peri, the grandson of 79-year-old hostage Chaim Peri, has quickly become a regular speaker at the hostage families protest in Jerusalem. He closed out this week’s rally in a speech rife with stinging criticism of Netanyahu’s right-wing government.

“Another week we’re here, what fun,” he said wryly to the crowd. “Is this fun for you?”

“I don’t have anything more to say… It’s insane that we’ve had to protest for two weeks even, let alone half a year,” he continued.

“They [the government] hear us and they know, and they don’t care, and we know they don’t care. We know that this war has no goals; this war itself is their goal. The government of Israel prefers to kill Gazan civilians rather than saving Israeli civilians,” he said.

After speeches ended, a group of protesters endeavored to block the junction adjacent to Paris Square in the capital, sitting in the middle of the road while chanting: “There is no routine until there is a hostage deal.”

Protesters block Paris Square in Jerusalem during a rally in support of a hostage deal, March 16, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Before confronting the protesters sitting on the ground, police went to a group of reporters and photographers standing across from the demonstration and shoved them onto the sidewalk.

Roni Green Shaulov, a reporter for Ynet, tweeted that despite showing his press ID to “every officer that crossed his path,” he was still met with violence.

“I don’t often criticize the police during protests, but today I was hit too much, and too systematically, for me to keep it to myself,” he said.

Only after clearing the road of reporters did law enforcement begin to haul protesters off the road one by one, at times flinging them to the ground.

Mounted policemen at the scene in Jerusalem refrained from getting involved in dispersing the protesters blocking the road. Two protesters were arrested, according to a police spokesperson.

“Police pushed violators to the sidewalk in order to allow the continued movement of vehicles at the intersection and to restore order to the place,” tweeted the Israel Police following the clashes.

Converging on Begin Street

In Tel Aviv, the two separate weekly rallies — one calling for a hostage deal, one for new elections — converged on Begin Street where some protesters blocked off the northern part of the road, lighting bonfires, deploying smoke grenades, and blowing horns, which eventually led to clashes with police.

Israeli activists blocking a road are sprayed with water cannon as police disperse an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Demonstrators chanted: “He who abandoned them, must return them,” referring to Netanyahu, and “all of them, now!” — a call for the release of the 134 hostages in Hamas captivity.

The Times of Israel witnessed one demonstrator being arrested as protesters began marching northward on Begin Street.

Later in the night, a number of protesters managed to make a break for the Ayalon Highway, with no initial response from police, and sit on the asphalt, partially blocking the road but allowing for traffic to pass through the left lane.

Police soon began to disperse the demonstration with a water cannon while attempting to keep it from moving southward on the highway.

For the first time in two weeks, officers brought horses to assist them in dispersing the protest.

Just one protester was arrested at the Tel Aviv demonstration, according to the Israel Police.

Most Popular
read more: