Police said Thursday they were searching for the driver in a suspected car-ramming attack on protesters at an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv, as thousands took to the streets to protest new coronavirus restrictions and call for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation. Medics said no one was injured in the incident.
The protest, one of hundreds nationwide Thursday, was held as MKs gave final approval for a new law that heavily restricts demonstrations during the ongoing virus lockdown, barring would-be demonstrators from gathering more than 1 kilometer from their homes, and limiting protests to groups of 20 people.
Around 3,000 demonstrators gathered in HaBima square, with small clusters of demonstrators marching in other parts of the city. Police arrested 12 protesters.
During the rally, a car stopped and then accelerated into a group of protesters standing in the middle of a road, before speeding away.
משטרת תל אביב מבצעת בשעה זו סריקות לאיתור הנהג שדרס את המפגינות. הוא ייעצר ברגע שיימצא. למי שלא בטוח שמדובר בניסיון דריסה, ראיתי בעיניי כיצד הוא מתעצבן שנאלץ להמתין שהצעידה תעבור, לוחץ על דוושת הגז ודוהר לכיוון המפגינים שבדרכו, לא מאט גם כשפוגע, ולאחר מכן טס ברמזור אדום ונמלט pic.twitter.com/XvLHFpbfzU
— עמרי מניב omri maniv (@omrimaniv) October 1, 2020
In a video of the incident shared on social media, a woman is seen falling to the ground before standing up again.
Other footage of the incident showed the same woman walking towards paramedics and demanding that they take her to the hospital. Protestors also claimed two people suffered bruising, Channel 12 News reported.
הרוחות מתלהטות. המפגינים לא מפסיקים לצעוד pic.twitter.com/YEpbxnVVkz
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) October 1, 2020
However, the Magen David Adom emergency service later said that after examining the people, none were found to be injured.
Police later stopped the car at a roadblock that was enforcing the lockdown operating nearby but allowed the car to pass, despite it showing damage, as the officers manning the site were not aware of the hit and run, the Haaretz newspaper reported. A police source told the paper that the driver would be apprehended. Some subsequent reports said this car was not involved in the suspected attack.
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif called the incident a “car-ramming attack” and blamed Netanyahu for inciting people against the demonstrators. The prime minister has in the past referred to those protesting against him as “anarchists.”
“After months of incitement from the prime minister himself and all those around him, a man chose to take action and try to kill protestors using a car. Netanyahu is the writing on the wall, Netanyahu will not rest until a demonstrator is killed,” Cassif tweeted.
The Black Flags, an anti-Netanyahu protest group, also blamed Netanyahu and members of his Likud party.
“The incitement heard from the prime minister and MKs from the Likud leads to another criminal attack on the demonstrators against Netanyahu and corruption,” the movement said.
During the demonstrations, police also arrested 12 demonstrators for “disturbing public order” by blocking traffic and refusing to obey police commands to disperse.
“The police chief informed the protesters that this was an illegal demonstration and gave them a reasonable amount of time to disperse,” the police said in a statement.
Dozens of fines were also handed out for “violating Health Ministry guidelines.”
Demonstrators were seen scuffling with police in Tel Aviv as officers worked to clear them from roads. Mounted police also arrived to control the crowds.
הערב מתחיל לצאת משליטה. המפגינים כלואים בין כוחות משטרה ברחוב לה גארדיה ומנסים לצאת לרחובות צדדיים. המשטרה מכניסה סוסים לתוך הקהל pic.twitter.com/pNiva4EZTE
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) October 1, 2020
The Tel Aviv protests were one of over 1,000 small, scattered demonstrations that erupted around the country on Thursday night as a Knesset committee gave the final approval needed for legislation restricting protests to within a kilometer of one’s home, and to groups of no more than 20 people.
Police have not specified whether they will continue to allow up to 2,000 demonstrators to gather in 100 socially distanced “clusters” of 20 people each outside the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of protesters have attended some such previous protests, but these were being limited to 2,000 in recent days, and it is not clear whether that will still be the case now that the new restrictions have been approved.
While proponents of the restrictions say that they are intended to curb Israel’s rising curve of coronavirus infections, organizers involved in the anti-Netanyahu protest movement of the past three months have vociferously opposed the new regulations, saying that they violate their freedom to protest.
Yishai Hadas, a leading activist in the anti-Netanyahu Crime Minister protest group, accused the government of a “political lockdown,” saying that the new coronavirus restrictions on demonstrations were motivated by a desire to quash the anti-Netanyahu protest movement, not public health.
“Why are they screwing around? Let them just come out and say it: We don’t want protests at Balfour. And by the way, does this look like a lockdown to you? Most of the economy is open, there’s no enforcement anywhere you go,” Hadas told The Times of Israel on Thursday night. “They’re trolling the public. It’s absurd.”
The panel also approved government regulations banning indoor prayers at synagogues and banning people from visiting others’ sukkahs over the upcoming week-long Sukkot holiday which begins on Friday night, according to Army Radio.
The rules are now set to go into effect at midnight, Hebrew reports said.
The new regulations were approved as part of legislation passed by the Knesset early Wednesday morning. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit later informed the government that the legislation was not valid until appropriate changes were made to relevant regulations.
In the final version of the law, under a government-declared “special coronavirus emergency,” the cabinet can restrict protests, prayers, and religious ceremonies for a week, with the possibility of extending restrictions another two weeks, should the emergency continue.
Backers of the law argue that the protests are a major health hazard and cracking down on them is necessary given Israel’s skyrocketing infection rate.
But the measure has faced vociferous opposition from critics, who say it undermines Israel’s democratic character and serves Netanyahu’s political interests, using the virus as a cover.