Some 30 protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were arrested on Saturday as thousands gathered in Jerusalem and at traffic junctions nationwide for the 24th week in a row.
The protest in Jerusalem was the largest in weeks, drawing thousands of demonstrators, ahead of a court hearing on Netanyahu's request to dismiss his corruption cases slated for Sunday.
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Police in Jerusalem arrested around 30 people on suspicion of disturbing the peace and used force to disperse protesters blocking Balfour Street to traffic. The Crime Minister protest group condemned the arrests, saying in a statement: "Tonight, it was proven that the Jerusalem Police are a political police on steroids."
On Sunday, the Jerusalem District Court is set to debate a motion by Netanyahu's attorneys to dismiss the indictments against the prime minister.
The groups organizing the protests spent the past week on an effort to bring thousands of people to the protest in Jerusalem near Netanyahu's official residence.
Meanwhile, a supporter of Netanyahu was arrested at a protest in Nes Tziona after allegedly attacking a policeman. According to witness accounts, a group of young men arrived and began cursing the protesters and tried to start fights, and ended up clashing with police officers separating the groups.
Protesters at a traffic junction near Rehovot said occupants of a passing car threw a metal box at them, striking one protester in the chest. According to the protester, the police were called and said they would send an officer, but none arrived. Instead, he said, a policeman called 40 minutes later asking him to come and file a complaint.
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A protester named Yaron said he had previously protested near Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea and at traffic junctions, but that this was his first time attending a protest in Jerusalem after seeing on social media that it was a particularly important demonstration to attend. "Personally, I am always saying, 'next week I'll be at Balfour [Street]' and don't do it," he said. "I'm so happy I came here."
Protester Ronen Lin, who demonstrated at Elyakim Bridge, said fewer people were present than usual, as many of those usually present planned to attend the Jerusalem protest. "The crack in the wall has grown," he said. "The prime minister has lost it. He's motivated by fear of his trial."
Protesters began marching at four points in Jerusalem before they converged on Paris Square, near the prime minister's official residence. Meanwhile, a convoy of dozens of vehicles drove from the central part of the country to Jerusalem, and a march took place in Nes Tziona, where a protester was assaulted last week.
For the first time in two months, the Movement for Quality Government did not hold a protest in Tel Aviv in order to keep the focus on the protest in Jerusalem. Also for the first time in two months, the Helem Tarbut group, which includes mostly figures involved in Tel Aviv's cultural and nightlife sector, sent buses of demonstrators to the main protest in Jerusalem.
Ahead of the protest, the Kumi Israel youth protest group accused Netanyahu of "dragging an entire country to an unnecessary election in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic because he failed in managing the crisis."
The Black Flag protest group meanwhile criticized the Jerusalem Municipality's removal on Friday night of a statue erected at Paris Square that depicted a kneeling protester holding an Israeli flag – inspired by an Associated Press photograph of a protester hit by a police water cannon – and said that "[o]ur obligation as citizens during the election campaign is to come out and protest against the criminal defendant and give him no rest."
The protests against Netanyahu have mostly focused on the criminal charges against him in three corruption cases, with some demonstrators also protesting his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. They have been marked by police violence and the assault of protesters by right-wing opponents.