Anti-Netanyahu Protests Resume in Jerusalem, Across Israel, in Shadow of Right-wing Violence

Demonstrators across Israel report pepper spray attacks, small explosives, and verbal abuse as protests return to Balfour Street and continue throughout the country after emergency order limiting them expires

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Thousands of protesters in Paris Square, Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.
Thousands of protesters in Paris Square, Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Protests renewed in Jerusalem Saturday after a two-week hiatus due to coronavirus restrictions, with 10,000 Israelis calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation, while thousands more protested across the country.

Violent attacks on protesters were reported around the country. Protesters in Haifa, Jerusalem and Ramat Gan were sprayed with pepper spray. Police have arrested seven suspects in the attacks.

Police arrested nine protesters in Jerusalem after hundreds of people started marching toward the city center. About a thousand protesters managed to evade the police and march through central Jerusalem. Together, they are proceeding towards the market and from there to the Knesset. 

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court extended the custody of a 19-year-old who is suspected of assailing police officers and attacking protesters with a chair.

The suspect, Netanel Aharon Haim from Jerusalem, was arrested by undercover police on Saturday for throwing bottles at protesters who were demonstrating on Balfour Street and later attacked officers who were filming him.

A knife was also found in his pocket, which he said served him in his job at the shuk. Police investigation shows that during the protest Haim shouted tirades at the demonstrators and later hurled a bottle of beer at them.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Earlier in the evening, a group of young protest leaders led a march through Jerusalem to Paris Square, adjacent to the prime minister's official residence. A convoy of about 500 cars made the drive from central Israel's Sharon region to Jerusalem.

The Black Flags protest group reported that police checked each vehicle at a checkpoint near Abu Ghosh, on the main route to Jerusalem, causing traffic congestion and making it difficult for protesters to get to Balfour.

Jerusalem's Balfour street, where Netanyahu's official residence lies, has been the focal point for ongoing anti-corruption protests. Last month, emergency coronavirus regulations banned travel beyond 1,000 meters from one's home, effectively barring demonstrators from reaching Jerusalem. While the regulations were in effect, protesters demonstrated at over a thousand designated points across the country, allowing Israelis to demonstrate near their homes.

Even though the one kilometer protest distance restrictions expired on Wednesday night, demonstrators continued protesting at 1,275 locations around the country. In Tel Aviv, over 1,000 protesters marched from Habima Square to Rabin Square before continuing northward through the city.

Protesters in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, October 17, 2020.
Protesters in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Earlier in Tel Aviv, The Movement for Quality Government held a demonstration in which former minister Tzipi Livni told the hundreds who gathered there that "Netanyahu chose to be the man who destroyed democracy and broke apart Israeli society."

She added, "I couldn't be silent anymore. This is enough." She told protesters, "you are the best medicine against despair. You are the ones who are bringing back the shine to the eyes of those who lost it." Addressing Netanyahu directly, she said, "Israel's citizens are telling you – we've had it up to here. You are not the victim in this story and we won't let you turn democracy into the victim. Israel is a state of law, and no man will be above the law, not even the prime minister." 

Regarding the protests, Netanyahu said Saturday night that he is not "fighting a war against them." He said that the government struck down the emergency regulations on Tuesday. "We're not arguing with the right to protest, it's clear. By the way, in other countries like Australia, they are."

Protesters across country report violence

Following the demonstration at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, two small explosives were thrown at protesters. According to eyewitnesses, a group of about 20 boys on bicycles arrived at the scene and started verbally abusing the protesters before throwing the explosives.

Mor, 23, identified 15 to 20 boys on electric bikes and scooters, who called the protesters "traitors" and "leftists", before one of them threw something in their direction and immediately fled. "There were two powerful explosions," she said, "luckily nobody was hurt."

A protester holds a sign that reads, 'Send Corrupt-yahu to Ma'asyahu [prison]' in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.
A protester holds a sign that reads, 'Send Corrupt-yahu to Ma'asyahu [prison]' in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In Ramat Gan, a couple was pepper sprayed at the end of the protest. One of the two victims, a woman in her 50s who is a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb, said that she was standing at the junction as she does every week. After an hour and a half of protesting, as the couple started home, a car stopped near them and the driver stuck his hand out the window, pepper sprayed them, and fled. 

She said that others came to their aid, and after they managed to regain their vision, another man stood close them on a motorcycle, cursing them and threatening to kill them. "A police officer went by seconds later, and they asked him for help, but he said that he would report it and just drove away." Her partner said that he knew that there would be people who would react negatively, but that he expected that at least the police would do something.

Police arrested three Kiryat Yam residents, all in their twenties, suspected of pepper spraying demonstrators in Haifa. A police statement said that a short while before 9 P.M., they received reports of people pepper spraying protesters at a number of sites throughout the city, and that evidence was found in the three mens' cars linking them to the attacks.  

Police also confirmed reports of a pepper spray incident in Tel Aviv, in which a motorcycle courier with the Wolt delivery service pepper sprayed a 12-year-old girl who was there with her mother and brother, among others, at a protest.

He was stopped shortly after by a police officer at the scene. The child who was attacked, Rona Gilat, told Army Radio journalist Nurit Kanti that the courier claimed he himself had been attacked, but Gilat's mother Adi refuted the claim, saying that he was going at about 40 kilometers an hour, against the flow of traffic, making it impossible to attack him. 

Police gather to confront protesters marching through Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.
Police gather to confront protesters marching through Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Wolt released a statement saying that they are unfamiliar with the incident, but denounce the act of violence and will cooperate with police.

On Tel Aviv's Nordau Street, police arrested a 19-year-old suspect who sprayed an unknown substance at protesters, one of whom was injured by the attack and required medical care. 

Earlier in the evening, on Tel Aviv's Kaufmann street, police arrested a 54-year-old man who cursed at demonstrators and punched one of them in the face. The protester did not require medical treatment. 

Police also reported that in the early evening, they received reports that a suspect pepper sprayed protesters standing on Jaffa's Yefet Street from a vehicle. None were injured in the attack, and police identified the vehicle a short while later and took in two suspects, a 17- and 20-year-old from Bat Yam, for questioning.   

At a protest in the Jezreel Valley, a video on social media showed a man stopping his car at an intersection, exiting the vehicle, and cursing at a protester, reported to be a woman in her seventies.   

Anti-Netanyahu protesters face off with pro-Netanyahu counter protesters in Hadera, October 17, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters face off with pro-Netanyahu counter protesters in Hadera, October 17, 2020.Credit: rami shllush

In the northern town of Kiryat Ata, police have opened an investigation after an unknown assailant threw a stone at protesters. 

In the run-up to Saturday night's demonstrations, protest groups had called for an increased presence in two locations in Holon, which saw exceptional violence against demonstrators on Thursday night. Members of La Familia, the Beitar Jerusalem soccer fan club known for its far-right, anti-Arab ideology, shifted between the two main protest sites in the Tel Aviv suburb in a manner that appeared to have been planned in advance.

Some 200 protesters gathered at each of the city's two main protest sites. About 20 pro-Netanyahu counter-protesters also arrived, with a police force separating the groups. Border Police, special forces and other police units arrived at the Holon protest sites on Saturday evening ahead of the protest. 

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, speaking from Balfour Street, said of the attacks by La Familia in Holon that "I warned time and time again that Netanyahu's incitement will turn into violence in the streets. It was clear that it would happen."  

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg also said she would submit a request for an "urgent debate in the Knesset regarding violence against demonstrators... in order to stop this madness."

At a square in Hadera, eight pro-Netanyahu protesters carrying Likud flags stood next to about a dozen anti-corruption protesters, carrying black and Israeli flags. Three police officers supervised the protests but did not intervene, nor did they attempt to separate the two groups. The anti-corruption protesters said that they had been demonstrating at the square for a while, but the counter-protesters had begun doing so only recently. 

The Likud protesters, most of them teenagers and young adults, shouted pro-Netanyahu slogans at passing cars and cursed at the anti-Netanyahu activists next to them. They refused to be interviewed, and tried to distance Haaretz photographer Rami Shlush from the area by waving their flags at him. 

The Black Flags protest group released a statement saying that "The State of Israel has found itself in the largest health and economic crisis in its history for one reason alone: Benjamin Netanyahu. The defendant, instead of caring for his citizens, cares only about himself and his family."

"There is only one way to stop the failed lockdowns and encourage the economy – bring about the departure of Netanyahu, and that the prime minister of Israel will be a man or woman who will deal with the country and not with themselves," the statement added.

On Thursday night, at Holon’s Kugel Square, La Familia members sprayed pepper spray at demonstrators, while in the plaza outside the Mediatheque, they hit one protest activist, Sadi Ben-Shitrit, in front of his 8-year-old son and assaulted Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum. If Appelbaum had not tried to separate the assailants and Ben Shitrit, the incident may have escalated. Two minors were later detained on suspicion of involvement in the assault.

Also on Thursday night, videos on social media showed a police officer pepper spraying a protestor and then kicking a person who was on the ground at a demonstration in Haifa. Eyewitnesses said that "people were banging on [a police] vehicle, and then a police officer arrived and began to spray people with pepper spray indiscriminately, and people began to flee… it's true that they were provoking the police, but provocation does not warrant such a lack of restraint."

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