The Israel Police were accused Tuesday of attempting to silence their critics after an anti-Netanyahu protester attacked by a senior cop on Saturday was summoned for interrogation following a media interview he gave about the incident.
In a widely distributed clip, Jerusalem Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta was seen shoving and smacking one protester in the demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and then pushing people to the side, as he chased down another demonstrator, whom he hit in the face before pushing him to the ground. Guetta and other officers then dragged the person along the pavement before hauling him off.
Pictures captured by a wire service photographer showed Guetta kneeling on a supine protester and pushing his head to the ground with his elbow outside Netanyahu’s official residence, which is on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.
Guetta claims he was assaulted by the demonstrators and that he did not use excessive force.
סגן ניצב ניסו גוואטה (הזכור ממחוז ירושלים) מאבד את זה הערב בצעדה בדרך לבלפור. pic.twitter.com/kHTu2llPfm
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) August 22, 2020
Avichai Green, the first protester seen in the footage being attacked by Guetta, spoke Sunday to the Kan public broadcaster about the incident. He also appeared on Channel 13 TV and said he feared police retribution if he gave an interview.
“There was no violence in my vicinity, the person who started the violence was the officer,” Green said. “Out of nowhere I was punched, got a finger in the eye, and another blow as if that wasn’t enough.”
Green, who at no point was detained or arrested during the Saturday protest, was suddenly summoned for immediate questioning under caution Monday, without an explanation.
On Tuesday, the officers — Guetta’s colleagues — told Green he was suspected of assaulting an officer and disrupting his work, even though the footage shows nothing of the sort.
The cops demanded that Green agree to stay away from the anti-Netanyahu protests for 14 days, while Guetta had only been suspended for 24 hours.
Green refused, agreed to stay away for 24 hours, and intends to challenge the police demand in court Wednesday, his lawyers said.
The attorneys, Gaby Lasky and Daniel Haklai, released a statement denouncing the “unbelievable attempt at intimidation.”
“A law-abiding citizen who is demonstrating against the prime minister and in favor of the rule of law is beaten by a senior police officer,” they said. “That is very severe. Due to him daring to give an interview about it, he is then summoned for questioning on a baseless suspicion of assaulting an officer.
“The effort to keep him away from the Balfour protests for 14 days is an attempt at silencing and delivering a critical blow to freedom of expression and freedom to protest,” the statement said.
The lawyers said Green had filed a complaint at the Police Internal Investigations Department for the assault, and that they would demand that the court “clarify to the Israel Police that they must defend human rights, not violate them.”
הייתי שם אתמול מול השוטר שחבט בעוצמה במפגין. לא הייתה שום התגרות או פרובוקציה מצד המפגין. אני מגיע לכל הפגנה, תמיד מקפיד להודות לשוטרים על עבודתם המקצועית, אך אתמול נחצה גבול.
אסור שאירוע כזה יקרה שוב pic.twitter.com/x8EP4xdnks
— Yair Golan – יאיר גולן (@YairGolan1) August 23, 2020
Asked during a Knesset discussion on Monday why Green had been hauled in for police questioning under caution, Jerusalem police chief Doron Yadid indicated that he had been wanted and that the TV appearance had enabled officers to identify him.
Guetta was suspended for a single day on Sunday and was back at work Monday, despite an ongoing internal investigation into his alleged actions. He was expected to again be at planned rallies over the weekend.
An anti-government protest leader warned that it would be a provocation to allow Guetta to return to the rallies in uniform before the probe had been completed.
On Monday evening, another video emerged in which Guetta was seen pushing more protesters, apparently without provocation.
In the video, which was edited, Guetta is seen pushing one man back before approaching another man, who is cuffed and being led away by police, and shoving him to the ground.
סרטון חדש של ניסו גואטה תוקף את בר משה בשנית לאחר שהוא כבר עצור. רק הבוקר דורון ידיד הכריז שגואטה יחזור להפגנה בשבת ושהוא טוען שתקפו אותו לפני. הפצה חובה pic.twitter.com/JJcS4F9qEJ
— أوري جبعاتي Ori Givati (@origivati) August 24, 2020
The last few months have seen growing protests outside the Prime Minster’s Residence in Jerusalem, with some calling on Netanyahu to resign because of three indictments against him — for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust — and others complaining about the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.
Saturday’s protest was marked by an outbreak of violence, with widespread scuffles between cops and demonstrators and several reports of police allegedly using excessive force.
On Monday, Kan TV reported that senior officer Shimi Marciano was being investigated by the Police Internal Investigations Department over allegations of violent behavior on Saturday.
במח"ש פתחו בבדיקה נגד נצ"מ שימי מרציאנו בעקבות התיעוד הזה שבו הוא נראה מושך בכח מפגינה.
במח"ש בודקים גם טענות של מפגין כי הותקף באגרופים בניידת אחרי שנעצר https://t.co/tWBGNm0oo2
— רועי ינובסקי (@Roi_Yanovsky) August 24, 2020
According to Channel 13, another officer, seen in a video slapping protester Nili Lerman, was also being investigated.
סרטון שצילמתי אתמול בצעידה: שוטרת ניגשת לאישה מבוגרת שמתעדת ברחוב בצלאל, נותנת לה סטירה לפנים, ואז קוראת לשוטר נוסף שדוחף אותה באגרסיביות, וכמתנת פרידה השניים עוצרים אותהhttps://t.co/qaDr4rJuIk pic.twitter.com/dWi2soIFXH
— עמרי מניב omri maniv (@omrimaniv) August 23, 2020
One protester who was seen being hit by Guetta told Army Radio on Monday that he was beaten by police while handcuffed, after being placed in a police cruiser.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.