Protesters took to the streets throughout Israel on Thursday evening, as anti-government demonstrations coincided with the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to the Hebrew calendar.
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This was the latest in a string of weekly demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government that have intensified over the last five months, despite the coronavirus outbreak and multiple incidents of violence.
Several organization planned to rally in Tel Aviv, as they did a week earlier. By 9:00 P.M., there was around 1,000 marching down Rothschild Boulevard, in the center of the city. When they crossed the major artery of Allenby, some of them went north, while others went south.
"We're like water, they cannnot stop us," shouted one of the protesters. "We'll come out against you every week."
The police arrested a man, 45, suspected of trying to stab protesters using a knife and opened an investigation into the matter.
The march going south, estimated to be more than 500 people, soon received reports from people sent ahead on bicycles that the police was waiting for them at the northern entrance to Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv. They turned back towards the center of the city.
Protesters eventually made their way to the iconic plaza in front of the Tel Aviv municipality building, which was named after Yitzhak Rabin following his assassination.
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Although this movement has centered on the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, Rabin Square is generally considered the country's protest epicenter. On Thursday, 25,000 memorial candles were lit to commemorate the murdered prime minister.
In an emotional moment, the crowd, which had been shouting slogans, drumming and playing music, walking 15 kilometers through the streets of Tel Aviv, fell silent for one minute of remembrance. Then, demonstrators started singing 'Shir HaShalom,' the Song of Peace, an anthem of the Rabin years.
Earlier, dozens marched to the residence of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a close Netanayahu ally, who has been a target for the demonstrators for his anti-protest rhetoric. They were blocked by police before they could enter the building. They eventually retreated and decided to join the rest of the protesters in Habima Square.
They were met there by a few dozens supporters of Armenia, protesting against the close links between the Israeli and Azerbaijani governments, and the sale of Israeli weapons currently used in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. Despite tacit support, the Armenian protest leaders said they were not considering joining the protests.
In the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, a demonstration by around 150 went on peacefully. In previous weeks, they were met with violence from pro-Netanyahu counter-demonstrators associated with the anti-Arab soccer hooligan group La Familia.
Several minor clashes between protesters and Netanyahu supporters were reported, including firecrackers being thrown at marchers in Tel Aviv, and a confrontation at a usually tense junction in the suburb of Ramat Gan.
'We have a duty to fight'
As night fell in the northern port of Haifa, protesters flying Israeli, black and pink flags drove, honking, up and down the slopes of the hilly city. They carried placards that said 'Go!' in Hebrew, written in the font used by Netanyahu's Likud party, a slogan of the demonstrations.
"This year we started studying civics," said a Haifa teenager, who was protesting for the first time, to Haaretz, "we are learning about people who are supposed to serve us and I distrust them entirely."
Protesters in several areas lit candles in remembrance of murdered prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and then gathered for a commemoration.
"As it was then, so it is today - the discourse is... inciting hatred, internally and externally," said social activist Dr. Meirav Ben-Nun in front of an audience of around 150. "As it was then, so it is today: We have a duty to fight, a duty to create an alternative, a duty to strive for a inclusive, democratic, honest and direct discourse."
“We are the generation born around [the time] of Rabin’s assassination," the Kumi Israel youth protest organization said in an earlier statement, accusing Netanyahu of incitement and dividing Israeli society, alleging that this is the only way that he can remain in office. Their generation "grew up in a survivalist reality in which the future is full of uncertainty and existential fear,” the statement added.
The Black Flag movement, one of the original forces behind the protests, starting with demonstrations at multiple intersections throughout the country, called Netanyahu "a danger for the future of the state of Israel."
"For the 19th week in a row, citizens are going out to protest against the failed prime minister," a statement released by the movement said at the beginning of the demonstration. "Netanyahu's only achievements in recent years are the crushing of the economy and the upheaval of Israeli society... We'll keep going until he leaves! '
The group alleged that Netanyahu’s speech at the Knesset on Thursday to mark the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination “proved all the more how much Netanyahu is a danger” to the country.
In his speech at the special Knesset session marking 25-years to Rabin's assassination, Netanyahu referred to the protest movement, comparing them to incitement that preceded Rabin's murder. "Twenty-five years after Rabin's assassination, incitement to murder the prime minister and his family persists and no one says a word," Netanyahu said.