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Officer says he was assaulted first, denies excessive force

Senior cop who was filmed attacking protesters returning to beat — police chief

Activists call for Niso Guetta be kept away from demonstrators, as more officers reportedly are probed for alleged violence during Saturday protest in Jerusalem; new video emerges

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Police arrest demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police arrest demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Jerusalem’s police chief told lawmakers Monday that a senior officer, who was filmed shoving and smacking protesters outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence on Saturday night, was slated to be back at work Monday, despite an ongoing internal investigation into his alleged actions.

An anti-government protest leader warned that it would be a provocation to allow Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta to return to the rallies in uniform before the probe has been completed.

In a widely distributed film clip, Guetta was seen shoving and smacking one protester, and then pushing people to the side, as he chased down another demonstrator, who 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.

Guetta claims he was assaulted by the demonstrators and that he did not use excessive force.

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.

Police have promised an investigation into Guetta, who was suspended for a single day on Sunday.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Yedid told lawmakers at a hearing of the Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee that Guetta was scheduled to return to work on Monday. Yedid declined to answer, when asked if Guetta would be allowed to return to the protests.

One of three protest leaders present, Yishai Hadas, said that allowing Guetta to future police rallies would be like a provocative “red rag,” to a bull.

He said that no documents had been provided to underpin police claims that a demonstrator had admitted to hitting Guetta.

On Monday evening, the Movement for Quality Government group called on Yedid to suspend Guetta from his role “to send a message that the police are making every effort to protect citizens and treat protesters in a correct manner.”

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.

According to Channel 13, another officer, seen in a video slapping protester Nili Lerman, was also being investigated.

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.

The two-hour discussion Knesset discussion on Monday was punctuated by angry outbursts and during which chairwoman Miki Haimovich had to order several MKs to leave the room to cool down, the police and representatives of the demonstrators appeared to be as entrenched as ever.

Yedid charged that in the run-up to Saturday’s demonstration, protesters from different groups had not only insulted the police on social media, but had announced that they were “coming for battle” and were “prepared for conflict.” The police had screenshots of this messaging, he said, as well as the findings from open-source and secret intelligence.

Asked why one protester, Avishai Green, had been hauled in for police questioning under caution, after appearing on Channel 13 TV and saying he feared police retribution if he gave an interview, Yedid indicated that he had been wanted and that the TV appearance had enabled them to identify him. The case was in the hands of the PIID.

When Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy, a former Jerusalem District Police commander, suggested that that the two sides get together to talk, Yedid said that he was not prepared to talk to all of the leaders. He bemoaned the fact that there was no single group with which the police could coordinate.

Jerusalem police chief Doron Yedid at the Knesset Committee for Internal Affairs and Environmental Protection on August 24, 2020. (Screenshot)

Haimovich charged that by fencing in the protest area, at Jerusalem’s Paris Square, and using mounted officers, police had raised tensions.

Yedid said the fencing was to ensure security, order and that nobody opposed to the demonstrators could get in.

Yedid noted that police had been tasked with enforcing a High Court ruling instructing them to curtail protest noise starting at 9:30 p.m., after complaints from neighborhood residents, which some have pointed to as a reason for the raised tensions.

Police say an unauthorized march through the city also raised tensions, which had already been running high, after police on Thursday forcibly removed anti-Netanyahu protesters — among them two former senior defense officials and a Knesset member (despite the latter’s immunity) — before dismantling their protest tent outside of the Prime Minister’s Residence so that a demonstration of the premier’s right-wing supporters could be held there later in the day.

Addressing the protest leaders, Yedid asked rhetorically,” Did anyone sitting here make an effort to enforce [the noise abatement]. Did someone try to ensure that by 11 p.m. things would be quiet?”

Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg asked why police were not wearing body cameras at the protests, to which Yedid responded that Jerusalem District Police were undergoing training in bodycam use, but that this would not be operational for several months.

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