Police arrested three people overnight Saturday and Sunday morning on suspicion of involvement in attacks, including a pepper-spraying and an alleged stabbing, against activists taking part in wide-scale demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
The violence came as thousands of Israelis called for the resignation of the premier and railed against his government in city squares, central intersections and highway overpasses across the country Saturday, part of a rapidly growing protest movement.
The protests have led to pushback from some of Netanyahu’s supporters, and at least some of the attacks were blamed on pro-Netanyahu groups. Politicians, including some from the prime minister’s governing coalition, spoke out against the attacks and in support of the right to protest.
A resident of Ramat Gan, 34, was arrested for pepper-spraying protesters at the Aluf Sade Interchange, police said in a statement Sunday. The suspect was to be brought for a remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court later in the day, and police said they would ask to extend his arrest.
Video of the incident showed a car slowing as it passed the protesters and then spray emerging from the side window. Moments later protesters could be seen apparently suffering from the effects of the spray.
שימו לב: תיעוד האירוע באלוף שדה: הרכב מגיע, משפריץ גז מהחלון שליד הנהג על המפגינים בצומת ואז אנשים מתחילים להחנק. בטוח שלמשטרה יש את האמצעים הטכנולוגיים לאתר את הרכב הזה https://t.co/SlhrtS8qU8 pic.twitter.com/rVtVmWDSm8
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) July 25, 2020
In the south of the country, a local resident in his twenties was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an altercation at the Sha’ar Hanegev Junction that resulted in a protester suffering light injuries to his neck from an apparent stabbing.
Police said they would ask to extend the suspects’s remand and were searching for others believed involved in the incident.
The injured man, Nir Sa’ar, told Channel 12 news that there had been a small, peaceful demonstration at the intersection, and just as they were packing up two men arrived and began tearing up some of the protest placards.
Another five cars arrived bringing around 15 more people, mostly aged around 20, with some in their 40s and 50s, said Sa’ar who was treated for light lacerations to his neck.
“They were looking for a fight,” Sa’ar said. “It wasn’t that I said something and he said something and it escalated. They came for a fight, they seemed completely organized.”
“They pushed us, cursed us, spat — it was very unpleasant,” he recalled. “The scratch and the paint that I have in my neck is small compared to the feeling of terror when you are being cursed next to your children. The children were screaming and crying. ”
Sa’ar said a friend of his, also with children, was attacked and when he went to help him, “I suddenly felt a strong blow in the neck.”
An image shared on social media showed a deep, bleeding scratch in Sa’ar’s neck.
חשיפת חזה על מנורה-לא אלימות
דקירה שטחית של מפגין בצווארו-אלימות. סו סימפל pic.twitter.com/C4aZyPo8Yh
— Almog Ben-zikri (@almogbenzikri) July 25, 2020
In Jerusalem, protesters leaving a rally against Netanyahu outside his residence reported being harassed or attacked by a group of people wearing all black on nearby Lincoln Street.
One person told the Haaretz daily that he and his friend were stopped by the group and were physically attacked after they refused to answer if they were for or against Netanyahu.
Police said a man, 27, was arrested on Lincoln Street with pepper spray, a flare and drugs in his possession. Another five people were detained for disturbing public order.
An eyewitness told Channel 12 that six men dressed in black attacked a protester, hitting him and breaking a glass bottle on him.
On Thursday, people leaving a previous rally outside Netanyahu’s residence also reported being attacked by a group of people in all black belonging to the La Familia gang of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club supporters, who had rallied in support of Netanyahu. The group is known for being involved in racist and homophobic attacks in the city, as well as violence against supporters of other soccer teams.
Among those to speak out against the attacks on the protesters was Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who tweeted early Sunday that “the right to protest is sacred.”
“Anyone who raises a hand against protesters and threatens violence needs to be severely punished,” he wrote.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenzai tweeted that he strongly condemns the attacks on protesters and called for police to investigate the incidents.
He urged “zero tolerance for violence in any form before it is too late. Citizens in this country have a right to go out and demonstrate and I will make sure to preserve that right in every way.”
Economy Minister Amir Peretz also condemned the attack. “The right to protest is a basic right granted to every Israeli citizen,” he wrote, calling on police to protect the demonstrators and to “act against the attackers swiftly.”
The attacks came days after Public Security Minister Amir Ohana reportedly complained about police treating anti-Netanyahu protesters with kid gloves.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”
The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills. Saturday’s rallies appeared to be the largest yet since the protests began to ramp up earlier this month.