Six anti-government demonstrators staying at the protest encampment in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem were fined Friday for violating new coronavirus protest restrictions, despite having shown police their lease for the apartment they are renting less than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the site.
The fines were issued just two days after the Knesset passed an amendment to the government’s coronavirus law early Wednesday morning, barring protesters from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes to attend a demonstration.
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According to the protesters, they were each fined 500 shekels ($145), and told by police officers that they would be fined again every hour if they don’t vacate the area. The protesters decided to stay and filed a request with the court to cancel all fines levied against them.
The protest encampment was set up four months ago by one of the anti-Netanyahu protest leaders, Amir Haskel, and it has been continuously inhabited by demonstrators ever since. Mass protests have taken place there weekly, with demonstrators railing against government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis and demanding that Netanyahu – who is charged with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases and is the first sitting Prime Minister in Israel's history to be indicted – go home.
Following the government’s decision to impose a full nationwide lockdown – which has been increasingly tightened since it went into effect two weeks ago – most of the activists permanently stationed there have left the premises over the last couple of days, and only a handful of protesters remain.
Five of the protesters rented an apartment on nearby Agron Street. Two other demonstrators who were fined are also renting an apartment located less than a kilometer from the prime minister’s residence.
Haskel told Haaretz that the apartment “on Agron street was legally rented by five people with the help of an attorney. The building is located near the Paris Square Junction.” According to Haskel, four of those who signed the lease were fined despite presenting police officers with a copy of the lease and inviting the officers to speak with the attorney whose name appears on the contract.
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“The officers decided that the contract is invalid. Only God knows where they got their legal knowledge from. After giving each [of the protesters] a 500-shekel ticket, they said they would return to hand out tickets every hour,” Haskel said.
The protest group "En Matzav" ("No Way") said in a statement: “The Israel Police are once again serving the criminal defendant and harassing protesters who demonstrate against the prime minister instead of protecting them and allowing them to exercise their basic rights.”
In response, the police said that “enforcement was carried out on Begin Street due to the violation of restrictions. Those who seek to contest the fines will be able to file a request to appear before the court or to appeal the fine through the appropriate channels. The police will impartially continue to enforce the regulations that limit gatherings, movement and trade for the good of the public.”