Anti-government protesters were attacked at several locations Saturday night, as tens of thousands in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and around the country called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s removal Saturday night.
Protesters in Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Haifa reported being pepper-sprayed, and attacks also reportedly took place in Kiryat Ata and Jerusalem, the latest in a rash of assaults by suspected far-right activists. Supporters of the protests say the assailants are being egged on by allies of Netanyahu, who have described the protesters as anarchists subverting the will of the people.
Saturday night saw the first major protests since a rule limiting travel for protests to one kilometer from home was lifted. Organizers said they assessed some 260,000 people attended rallies throughout the country, though their figures could not be independently confirmed.
Police said nine people were arrested during protests in Jerusalem.
Police also said they detained several figures suspected in the attacks on demonstrators, including a 19-year-old arrested in central Tel Aviv and suspected of pepper-spraying a demonstrator. Video from the scene showed a driver for the bike-based food delivery company Wolt being detained.
— אור רביד | Or Ravid (@OrRavid) October 17, 2020
According to reports, a 12-year-old girl required medical attention in the city after being pepper-sprayed in the face, while leaving a protest she had attended with her mother and brother.
Two suspects aged 20 and 17 from Bat Yam were arrested, suspected of pepper-spraying protesters from a passing car on Yefet Street in Jaffa earlier in the evening.
Authorities also said they arrested three people in Haifa suspected of pepper-spraying protesters.
The suspects, residents of the Kiryat Yam suburb in their 20s, had “evidence connecting them” to the incident in their car, police said.
In Ramat Gan, there were reports of an assailant in a passing car pepper-spraying protesters near Rambam Square. Police said officers responding to a report of protesters there being threatened arrested a man, 60, for disturbing the peace and refusing to provide identification.
Police also said they arrested a man, 54, on Kaufman Street in Tel Aviv for cursing at protesters and punching one in the face. The victim did not need medical attention.
In Jerusalem, police reportedly detained a man who infiltrated into a group of protesters and threatened them by saying he had a knife.
Elsewhere in the city, a Times of Israel reporter saw eggs being thrown from a balcony at protesters who split off the main demonstration outside Netanyahu’s residence and marched into the city center. Police said they arrested three protesters who took part in the march for attacking officers and disturbing the peace.
A video from the area showed a scuffle, apparently between protesters and right-wingers. “Leftists go home,” one person can be heard shouting.
חבורה של ירושלמים תקפו אותנו וכמה מפגינים ליד שוק מחנה יהודה. מכות, יריקות, ביצה שנזרקה התנפצה לי על הרגל, העיפו לי את הטלפון. אלימות קשה פה בבירה pic.twitter.com/L6YLZU91pG
— עמרי מניב omri maniv (@omrimaniv) October 17, 2020
In Haifa suburb Kiryat Ata, protesters said someone threw a stone at them, according to Haaretz.
Protests in recent months have seen dozens of attacks on anti-Netanyahu demonstrators and journalists, including by one Sderot resident accused of assaulting a protester with a sharp object. There have also been two suspected incidents of cars trying to ram protesters.
On Thursday, a number of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators on Holon were sprayed with “some kind of gas” by opponents who showed up to confront them, police said in a statement. Media reports indicated the substance was tear gas.
A Haaretz photographer tweeted a picture of far-right activists at the Holon counter-demonstration, some of whom were holding a sign that read “A good leftist is a dead leftist.”
להפגנה בחולון הגיעו כמה עשרות פעילים ( ככל הנראה לה פמיליה)
זה אחד השלטים שאחזו pic.twitter.com/SnLlUV2si6
— Tomer Appelbaum (@tomerappelbaum) October 15, 2020
A video posted to Twitter by Channel 12 showed that same Haaretz photographer, Tomer Appelbaum, being attacked by far-right activists shortly thereafter.
Protesters have held weekly rallies calling for the removal of Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu has denied the allegations and attacked the police, justice system and other officials for what he and his allies term a “witch-hunt.”
Saturday’s Jerusalem protest was the first major demonstration in the capital since a rule including protests in coronavirus restrictions barring travel more than a kilometer from home expired Tuesday.
The prime minister’s Balfour Street residence has been the locus of weekly protests that have gained steam since the summer as activists urge the ouster of Netanyahu over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Activists were forced to shift to small rallies at bridges and intersections limited to 20 people each to comply with the rules, which many charged had been politically motivated to quash the demonstrations. Protest leaders claimed the rules had the opposite effect, leading to even larger numbers of people coming out to demonstrate against the government.
Critics of Netanyahu say his attacks on the law enforcement system and the protests against him, coupled with the destabilizing effects of the virus, are major causes for a deeply polarizing atmosphere that has settled over Israel, and fear the violence may yet turn deadly.
The protests came hours before Israel was slated to significantly roll back a national lockdown in place for exactly a month, after the closure managed to curb sky-high infection rates. The lifted restrictions will end a ban on travel of more than a kilometer, and allow preschools and non-public-facing businesses to open.
Some demonstrators decried the economic consequences of the second coronavirus lockdown. Moran Halperin, a resident of Carmiel, attended the Jerusalem protest with her husband.
“We own a small business, a photography studio. We live in a city with low levels of coronavirus. We have young children at home. There’s no reason why we should be closed — we follow health and safety guidelines. But we have no clients. Zero. They shut us down,” Halperin told The Times of Israel.
“We’re digging deep into our savings. We’re asking our families for help. And everything’s closed, so we can’t even look for an additional job,” Halperin continued.
Others focused on what they deemed to be a widening sense of division in the country, the blame for which they laid at Netanyahu’s feet.
“This country is heading towards rupture and division, and it begins with the Prime Minister… I’m here representing my four children and their future. They’re at home. They made me my sign, by the way,” said Eldad Miller, an engineer from a small town outside of Be’er Sheva, gesturing with his cardboard placard.
Many of the demonstrators were from the left and center, with large blocs of activists holding signs in Hebrew and Arabic. But protesters who spoke to The Times of Israel said that anyone would be better than Netanyahu, even right-wing political Naftali Bennett, who has risen sharply in the polls in recent weeks.
“I don’t care if the next leader comes from the right. [Netanyahu’s] been indicted. Let someone else from the Likud take charge,” Miller said.
Asked about a potential Bennett administration, Miller said: “It doesn’t make a difference — as long as he thinks about the country and not about himself.
“I certainly object to Bennett and [fellow Yamina MK] Ayelet Shaked from a political standpoint. But I also believe that they are better than Bibi, because at the very least they’re not corrupt,” said Yuval, a middle-aged demonstrator from the Lower Galilee.