Probe announced into alleged police violence at stormy anti-government protest

Incident of man being smacked with reins by mounted cop to be investigated; cousin of hostage doused by water cannon speaks out against police

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Mounted police clash with protesters on Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, February 24, 2024. (X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Justice Ministry will investigate an incident in which a mounted policeman appeared to hit an anti-government protester in the head with his reins during a chaotic anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv Saturday night.

In footage of the incident, the demonstrator can be seen falling to the ground clutching his head in pain as police on horseback moved through a crowd of hundreds of protesters who had gathered at the intersection of Kaplan Street and Begin Road.

The incident was one of several displays of violence during the tumultuous protest, which also saw police deploy water cannons against protesters for the first time since October 7.

The allegation of police brutality is set to be investigated by the Justice Ministry’s unit for police internal investigations, according to police and reports in Hebrew-language media.

In a statement Sunday, Israel Police said protesters ignored police warnings, blocked roads, and clashed with police “despite repeated negotiation efforts.”

Twenty-one people were arrested during the demonstration, police said. Several protesters were injured and required medical attention.

Police use a water cannon to disperse protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government, in Tel Aviv, on February 24, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It was unclear if the man who was smacked by the reins, who was not identified, required medical attention. In the footage, other protesters could be seen rushing over to check on the man and help him stand.

A police officer also approached him to ask if he was all right.

A demonstrator falls after being hit by a mounted police officer during an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on February 24, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The clashes between police and protesters were among the most intense since war broke out on October 7. Demonstrations against the coalition’s judicial overhaul ceased with the outbreak of war, but protests have ramped up in recent weeks as anti-government activists have taken up the cause of families pushing for a deal to free hostages held captive in Gaza.

Some relatives of hostages were among those hit by jets of water from police water cannons.

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is presumed to be held captive in Gaza, attended the anti-government rally in Tel Aviv, where she chanted into a megaphone about the need to retrieve the hostages. She and Matan’s girlfriend Ilana Gritzewsky, who was held hostage in Gaza for 55 days before her release in November, were hit by a police water cannon while protesting, the Ynet news site reported.

According to the report, the two got caught up in clashes between police forces and anti-government protesters, at which point the police deployed water cannons despite the pair being within the pre-approved boundaries of the protest route.

Speaking to the Hebrew outlet, Zangauker said the two were part of a crowd of protesters who “blocked the lanes on Begin Street and held a torchlit march as we surrounded the Kirya military base with the permission of the police.”

When the protest reached Kaplan Street, however, where a large anti-government protest was erupting into chaos as mounted police officers arrived to disperse crowds attempting to block traffic, the officer who was accompanying them left and they were hit with the water cannon, she said, adding that the police failed to coordinate with each other to prevent this from happening.

“I am the mother of a hostage, Ilana was in captivity for 55 days and came to sound the cry for her partner, and this is the treatment we receive?” Einav lamented.

Former hostage Ilana Grisewsky, center, takes part in a protest in Tel Aviv calling on the government to return the remaining abductees held by Hamas in Gaza, on February 24, 2024. The protesters merged with anti-government demonstrators, prompting police to use water cannons to disperse the crowds. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Yifat Calderon, who was injured by the water cannon and is a cousin of Ofer Calderon who is held captive in Gaza, told Kan radio Sunday that police continued to spray them even after they yelled that they were relatives of hostages.

“It was my luck that a friend of mine pushed me aside,” she said. “The police lost it yesterday. There was no need to use force, not against the families and not against innocent civilians,” she said.

“Behind me was a friend who held Ofer’s banner and a mounted cop trampled him and threw him on the ground. There was no need to behave like that. It was a shame on Israel Police, it was unreasonable violence,” she added.

Protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government hold up their fists as police use on them a water cannon in Tel Aviv on February 24, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Violent police tactics had drawn severe criticism during the anti-judicial overhaul demonstrations that rocked Israeli cities for much of 2023. Activists have laid some of the blame at the doorstep of National Security Minister Itamar, who has pushed police to act aggressively against disorderly protesters.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid slammed the police violence as “dangerous, antidemocratic and cannot continue.”

“The right to protest is a fundamental right, and it cannot be taken from protesters with batons and water cannons,” he declared.

Anti-government protest organizers also slammed the brutality, blaming “the minister of government destruction,” appearing to refer to Ben Gvir.

“The voice of Israeli citizens demanding a change from the most failed leadership in the history of the country won’t be silenced, it will only grow,” a statement from organizers read.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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