Five people were taken into custody on Saturday for allegedly accosting Israelis protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as police were out in force to secure the latest mass rally outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem.
Ahead of the protest at the Prime Minister’s Residence, demonstrators held rallies against Netanyahu at bridges and highway overpasses across Israel. Organizers said thousands took part in the protests at some 300 locations across the country.
In Haifa, police said they detained a man who threw a rock at protesters, lightly injuring a woman. She was taken to the northern city’s Rambam Medical Center for treatment.
Police said the suspect was a homeless man, but protesters quoted by the Haaretz daily said he got out of a car.
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Down south, a man in his 20s was arrested after cursing at and spitting on anti-Netanyahu demonstrators at a highway junction in the southern city of Ashkelon.
Police also arrested three people for spraying water from their vehicle toward protesters at the Sha’ar Hanegev junction on Route 34.
Police did not immediately respond to a query regarding what was deemed illegal regarding the suspects’ conduct
The incidents came hours before over 10,000 people rallied in Jerusalem outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, in what was the biggest rally to be held there since the recent start of anti-government protests. It was also the largest demonstration since participants in a protest earlier this week in Tel Aviv were beaten in a suspected far-right attack.
Unlike at past rallies, law enforcement accepted a request from protest organizers to carry out a march through the streets of Jerusalem surrounding Netanyahu’s official residence in the Rehavia neighborhood.
The decision from police came after the High Court of Justice rejected a petition demanding that the protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence be moved to a different location.
Some protest organizers disagreed with the decision to conduct a march in coordination with Jerusalem police.
“I opposed the permit because I see it as a trap,” said protest organizer Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who believes police would use any violations of the permit to shut down the protest.
“In my opinion, the protest is simply legal. There’s no reason for us to go to the police [so that they] permit a legal protest,” Ben Yitzhak told The Times of Israel.
Officers were also out in force for similar protests against the government at Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park and in the coastal town of Caesarea, where Netanyahu owns a private residence.
Police in a statement said they “are working to enable the procession to take place while maintaining the safety of the participants. However, no one will be allowed to turn the gathering into a demonstration of violence against police, civilians or property. Violent riots and disturbances will be treated with zero tolerance.”
Police said they were also preparing for the possibility that far-right protesters might try to again infiltrate the demonstration in order to attack anti-Netanyahu activists, as they are suspected of having done earlier this week in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“In light of the fact that a number of protests in recent days have turned into riots and included violence by demonstrators as well as toward them, police are preparing with forces and means for this as well,” the statement added.
Protester organizers said that had heard from many concerned for their safety at Saturday evening’s protest.
One organizer, Avi Ofer, said some demonstrators were organizing self-defense units formed of graduates of IDF combat units to respond in the event that far-right extremists assaulted anti-Netanyahu protesters.
“People are scared. I’ve spent all day speaking to people, calming them down. But I think in the end they’ll come,” said Ben Yitzhak.
“There’s a palpable fear that’s spreading among us about what could happen. Especially on side streets when we leave the protest where there’s no police presence,” says Mor Elyakim, another protest organizer, referring to demonstrators reportedly attacked by far-right extremists in Jerusalem after leaving the Balfour demonstrations.
Protesters have for weeks been holding regular rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.
Hundreds of anti-government protesters gathered on Friday outside Netanyahu’s residences in Jerusalem and Caesarea.
Uniformed police and plainclothes officers were on the scene and closely monitoring weekend demonstrations after several recent rallies devolved into violence.
Friday’s protests were peaceful and even included a modern dance troupe performing in the street.
— גלעד כהן | Gilad Cohen (@GiladCohenJR) July 31, 2020
About 100 people attended the Caesarea protest.
The ongoing protest movement also expanded abroad on Friday with a rally held at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. Organizers said the event was held “in support of our Israeli brothers and sisters, who protest on 250 bridges in Israel and in the cities’ squares, with the intention of saving the Israeli democracy.”
A demonstration was expected to take place outside the Israeli embassy in London on Sunday, and a small rally was held last week outside the embassy in Berlin, Walla reported.
Recent protests have seen an alarming spike in violence, with attacks by right-wing counter-protesters, and scuffles between anti-government demonstrators and police.
On Thursday night police detained some 16 suspected far-right activists after a rally by an extremist Jerusalem gang saw journalists and others attacked, though police managed to prevent the group from approaching and possibly assaulting anti-government protesters.
The rally by Beitar Jerusalem soccer fan club La Familia at Jerusalem’s First Station entertainment complex was planned as a counter-demonstration to a nearby anti-government protest against Netanyahu. It came amid an uptick of attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters by suspected far-right assailants, including a bloody assault in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The far-right counter-protesters on Thursday chanted “Death to leftists,” hurled rocks and assaulted journalists, breaking a camera.
On Tuesday, a rally outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s home in Tel Aviv turned violent when suspected far-right assailants were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs and spraying them with mace. Organizers of the protest said five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.
Five suspects were released to house arrest on Thursday, with a judge said to accept the defense’s argument that the altercation had been a brawl between the two sides, “who had provoked each other,” and not an outright attack against protesters.
The Tuesday violence drew widespread condemnation, including from Knesset opposition figures who blamed Netanyahu for inciting it. Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the anti-government protesters as “anarchists.”
On Saturday night, police arrested far-right activists, reportedly members of the group, who allegedly attacked protesters. Protesters also reported being attacked by far-right hooligans at smaller demonstrations in the south of the country and near Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.