'Disproportionate, unjustified' use endangers demonstrators

Protest organizers say will go to High Court unless police stop water cannon use

With thousands expected at Saturday night rally against Netanyahu, activists say police must signal lack of intention to use high-powered water jets or matter will go before judges

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, early Friday, July 24, 2020.  (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, early Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Organizers of the protests calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation wrote to the police chief on Saturday, saying they will petition the High Court unless law enforcement officials refrain from using water cannons to disperse demonstrators.

Protest leader and attorney, Gonen Ben Yitzhak wrote to Interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen on behalf of the “Crime Minister” organization ahead of a rally in Jerusalem on Saturday evening that is expected to be attended by thousands.

“Police have started to use water cannons, firing high-pressured water against protesters,” read the letter sent to Cohen. “It is a disproportionate and unjustified use of force against them. Their use actually endangers the demonstrators and has in recent days led to severe injuries to them, including direct injuries to the head and other organs from direct fire.”

The letter went on to state that unless police confirmed they were not planning to deploy water cannons at Saturday night’s protest, the activists would petition the High Court on the matter.

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, July 22, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“A demonstration is also planned for tonight and we demand that the Israel Police clarify in advance that it does not intend to use a water cannon against the protesters during the demonstration, otherwise we will have to go to court and ask for an order prohibiting the Israeli police from using it,” the letter read.

Ben Yitzhak also issued a request for anyone who has been injured by a water cannon during the protests to get in contact.

Amnesty International has in the past highlighted the use of water cannons by law enforcement as posing a danger to demonstrators around the globe, most recently in Hong Kong. In 2015, an activist in South Korea died from injuries sustained when a water cannon was fired at him from close range.

The letter to Israel Police came after the release of a video in which a demonstrator is seen to be hit directly in the face with a powerful jet of water, causing his or her head to snap backwards as he or she is thrown to the ground.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters have been holding regular rallies outside his official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. Rallies against Netanyahu’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic have also been held, though mostly in Tel Aviv.

There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, and police were reportedly wary of further clashes. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.

So far, police appear to be spraying protesters with water and colored water, rather than deploying “skunk spray,” a foul-smelling chemical compound initially developed for use against Palestinian rioters which has also been used against ultra-Orthodox protesters.

Jerusalem police have fired water to clear protesters at Balfour refusing orders to disperse at least three times since last week. However, some said the police’s use of the cannons just after midnight early Friday morning marked a ratcheting up of the police tactic, as water trucks appeared to chase off protesters no matter which way they turned to leave.

Police use a water cannon against demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 18, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Officers sprayed protesters with high-pressure water cannons in a bid to move people off the streets. Some protesters who were peacefully dispersing were hit in the back by the water cannons, and activists said police left them with nowhere to go.

Police arrested or detained 55 people as they cleared the area, all of whom were released by Friday, most of them with limitations barring them from such protests for the next week to 10 days, and one to house arrest with police alleging he had attacked them.

This is not the first time Israeli police’s use of water cannons as a riot dispersal method has drawn attention. In 2017, a woman attempting to walk by ultra-Orthodox protesters was hit by water fired by a cannon, sending her flying down the street, in an incident caught on video that made headlines around the globe.

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