Soldier detained for allegedly threatening anti-government protesters with weapon

Demonstrators at Beit Kama Junction say serviceman accelerated toward them, got out of army truck and starting shouting; Military Police investigating

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Police officers and protesters surround an army truck that allegedly accelated toward a protest at the Beit Kama Junction in southern Israel, March 1, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Police officers and protesters surround an army truck that allegedly accelated toward a protest at the Beit Kama Junction in southern Israel, March 1, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter)

An Israeli soldier was detained by police officers in southern Israel on Wednesday, after he allegedly pulled a gun and threatened a group of demonstrators protesting the government’s judicial overhaul plans.

A police spokesman said that during the protest at the Beit Kama Junction, north of Beersheba, a soldier got out of an army truck and allegedly threatened protesters.

The protesters claimed the soldier accelerated toward them and waved his gun at them in a threatening manner.

“We were standing at the traffic circle and the soldier started speeding… he almost hit the Border Police officer who was guarding us along with several policemen,” Gil Inbar, one of the protesters, told the Ynet news site.

“Protesters tried to stop him along with the police. He stopped [the truck] and got out with his weapon and shouted,” he said.

Officers at the scene detained the soldier and notified the IDF, the spokesman said.

The soldier was handed over to Military Police for further questioning.

A military spokesperson told The Times of Israel that the soldier’s gun had its safety catch on, and it was without a magazine inserted.

“The case has been transferred to the Military Police for examination and its circumstances are being clarified,” the spokesperson said.

The incident came amid mass protests across the country, marking a “day of disruption” against the government’s judicial overhaul efforts.

At least 11 people injured in clashes with police in Tel Aviv arrived in hospitals for treatment for various bruises, cuts and burns. One man was said to have lost an ear, apparently after being hit with a stun grenade.

And at least 50 people were arrested in the nationwide demonstrations, which blocked roads, disrupted train service, and drew thousands out to march. In one video widely shared online, Border Police were seen subduing a man in Tel Aviv while kneeling on his neck.

Police use stun grenades during a demonstration against the government’s controversial justice reform bill, in Tel Aviv on March 1, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In a recent meeting with the IDF’s top brass, military chief Herzi Halevi said he was aware of the controversy over the overhaul plans, but will not allow it to affect the army’s “ability to carry out its missions.”

There has been a growing list of army reservists threatening to refuse to perform reserve duty in protest of the government’s plans

The sweeping reforms, which are being pushed through the Knesset in recent weeks, include the government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges, including to the High Court; all but eliminating the High Court’s ability to review and strike down legislation; and allowing politicians to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers.

Critics say the plan would deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen, rather than weaken, democracy, and that his government is carrying out the will of the people.

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