A senior police officer who appeared to assault at least two protesters during an anti-government demonstration in Jerusalem on Saturday night claims he was assaulted by the demonstrators and that he didn’t use excessive force.
The Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) is probing chief superintendent Niso Guetta of the Jerusalem police and questioning him as a criminal suspect.
He was ordered to stay away from police stations for 24 hours on Sunday, meaning he would be back in the office later Monday.
In an incident caught on film, Guetta was seen shoving and smacking one protester, and then pushing people to the side, as he chased down another demonstrator, hitting him in the face and pushing him to the ground.
Guetta and other officers then dragged the person on the pavement before hauling him off.
In the video, a hand is seen reaching in from out of frame and appearing to dislodge Guetta’s face mask, as he shoves the first protester.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 22, 2020
“I was attacked by a protester who charged at me and I acted according to protocol,” Guetta told investigators during his interrogation, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “During yesterday’s events, as far as I’m concerned, there was no use of excessive force on my part.”
Guetta said of the protesters in the video that “they spoke to me threateningly, called me a Nazi. Some of them even attacked me.”
Guetta’s attorney Liran Zilberman argued that the published footage “presents a partial picture,” saying the officer “trusts the PIID for matters to be clarified at the end of the investigation.”
“Two were arrested for assaulting the officer, one of whom admitted to the assault,” Jerusalem deputy police chief Ofer Shomer told Kan on Sunday. “There is a video where you see that the officer was punched.”
It was unclear which video Shomer was referring to, or at what stage of the altercation Guetta alleged he was punched.
Two protesters seen in the footage to be attacked by Guetta were arrested at the time for assaulting an officer. They were released from custody Sunday, with the judge signing an order keeping them away from Jerusalem for 14 days.
During the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court remand hearing, attorney Gaby Lasky, who represents one of the protesters, presented photos appearing to show Guetta pinning the man to the floor by pressing near his neck.
ממש עוד קצת מאמץ, גואטה, ותביא לנו ג'ורג' פלויד משלנו. pic.twitter.com/wWpp0TURIT
— li-at steinitz (@LiSteinitz) August 22, 2020
“He is strangling him the same way George Floyd was strangled,” she said, referring to an American Black man killed in May by a white cop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in an incident that triggered worldwide protests.
“He really strangled me,” said the protester. “I was pinned to the ground. They claimed I strangled the officer even though that never happened. I have no goal and no reason to attack a cop.
“After that they pulled me into the police car,” he added. “I was beaten while I was handcuffed. They punched me, stepped on my throat and screamed at me not to resist the arrest even though I never resisted.”
After some of the most intense clashes between cops and activists in nearly two months of weekly rallies, the court ordered 20 protesters released under restrictive conditions, and freed six others who refused to agree to the conditions.
Meretz MK Yair Golan said that one of the demonstrators who was hit by a police officer had not provoked him ahead of the assault.
“I was there yesterday in front of the policeman who hit the demonstrator hard,” Golan tweeted.
“There was no provocation on the part of the protester. I come to every demonstration, always making sure to thank the cops for their professional work, but yesterday a line was crossed. Such incidents must not recur,” Golan said.
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
On Monday the Ynet news site published a video it said showed Guetta attacking a Palestinian man in Jerusalem in 2018, seemingly unprovoked.
In the footage, shot from a distance, the police officer, said to be Guetta, attacks a man who appears to walking past, close to the Old City’s Damascus Gate.
“I did nothing. I just passed by during a demonstration,” the man told Ynet.
The PIID told the outlet no complaint had been made about the incident but they would look into it.
Police said 30 people were arrested at the protest on Saturday calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster, as scuffles broke out between activists and cops attempting to clear streets and confiscate noisemakers.
At least some of the violence appeared to be set off as a result of a decision by police to begin enforcing noise regulations and clearing the protesters earlier than in the past, following a High Court decision banning noisy protests late at night, due to complaints from neighborhood residents.
At 11 p.m., the police declared the gathering to be illegal, and threatened the use of force. Several minutes later, mounted police charged the thousands-strong crowd, followed by ranks of Yasam riot police.
At least one protester was injured and needed to be hospitalized, according to Haaretz.
Police patience may have also been tried by a decision by protesters to hold a march through the capital, in violation of police guidelines, leading to minor scuffles.
The marked uptick in fighting came after several weeks that had seen only sporadic altercations between protesters and officers, who seemed to take a softer stance toward the demonstrators after an outcry following violent incidents when protests began to pick up steam in late June.
Police have said that dealing with the protests is “complicated” given social distancing regulations, the urban setting at one of Jerusalem’s busiest intersections, political pressures and other factors. But protesters and others have accused the police of using violent tactics and arresting people without cause.
Protesters have been holding regular rallies for several months outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges and criticizing his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some 10,000 people attended the Jerusalem protest Saturday night.
Aaron Boxerman and Anat Peled contributed to this report.