As Election Campaign Kicks Off, anti-Netanyahu Protesters Around Israel Face Violence

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מפגינים בירושלים, הערב
Anti-Netanyahu protests in Jerusalem Credit: Emil Salman

The demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday have been marred by reports of violence, as protesters called for the premier's removal for the 34th consecutive week.

Police have detained four suspects in relation to various attacks on protesters, with an eyewitness reporting two additional arrests that are yet to be confirmed by the police. 

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Around 1500 protesters gathered outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. Hundreds marched in Caesarea to the Netanyahus' private residence, as other demonstrators gathered on key intersections and bridges across the country. 

Protester Avi Shmueli, who was demonstrating on a bridge in central Israel, told Haaretz that he was threatened at gunpoint. "Today, a car came, and a young woman got out and pulled a pistol – I don't know if it was real or not – and threatened us for a few seconds with the gun." He said that although he was not able to get a picture of the gun, he gave the car's details to the police. After she pointed the gun at protesters, Shmueli said that the woman drove off. "It feels like as the election gets closer, the violence increases."

Police detained the driver of the vehicle, as well as the suspect accused of making the threat, who had her plastic pistol seized. Both suspects, who are 18 and 19 years old, hail from Givat Shmuel in central Israel, local police sources say.

Protesters gather for the 34th consecutive week of anti-Netanyahu demonstrationsCredit: Noa Spiegel

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid lay the blame squarely with the prime minister in a stern warning: "It will end in murder...The incitement comes from Balfour, and the spirit of violence and hatred is dangerous and destructive. I call on the prime minister - stop the incitement. Your activists have lost their way," he said.

The Black Flag movement said in response that "no one is surprised that a gun was drawn on protesters. We have no expectations that the defendant [Netanyahu] or his associates will condemn the act...This is the result of their incitement and this is exactly why we are out here demonstrating," they wrote.

In Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb, an eyewitness said that two Netanyahu supporters attacked an elderly man and another woman. "If there weren't 40 people there, it would have ended in disaster," local protest leader Yafit Ezer said.

"It took the police 25 minutes to arrive. We called them three times and it was frightening. Police detained them for questioning. We will not be scared next week. There will be 80 of us," she added.

The Black Flag movement also reported that a car window was smashed at the protest site in the southern kibbutz of Dvira, protesters were verbally abused in Herzliya, pelted with stones in Netanya, and physically assaulted in Rishon Letzion.

A protest leader at the demonstration in Rishon Letzion, Rosie Keidar, witnessed the assault. "Suddenly, Bibi [Netanyahu] supporters came to our junction and started tearing down flags and beating two demonstrators. A police car arrived and they are filing a complaint. This is the first time there has been physical violence at our intersection. We have gotten used to verbal abuse, but we won't sit by in silence as violence occurs."

Police confirmed that one person was detained at the scene. 

Meanwhile, a police spokesperson said that a 22-year-old has been detained over an alleged assault of a protester in Nahariya in northern Israel. The suspect threw a flag and a drink can at the demonstrators before fleeing the scene. 

Itamar Berger, a local protest organizer, responded to the attack: "Unfortunately, this is not an exceptional event and is almost a routine reality. The police responded quickly and decisively. The attack did not happen on its own. Someone is inciting it against us," he said. 

The Movement for Quality Government, who organized the demonstration in Caesarea, stated: "This week something happened in Israel for the first time in the country's history: an incumbent prime minister sat on the dock in court. This is not a normal situation and we should not grow accustomed to it in any way," they wrote.

"Netanyahu faces a fundamental conflict of interest every day...The huge failure to manage the coronavirus crisis is largely influenced by his legal status," the statement added.

The Black Flag movement also released a statement prior to the protest, stating: "More than 5300 have die due to coronavirus failures. A bankrupt education system and a disconnected education minister. A complete loss of trust in the government led by the defendant, which is driven solely by Netanyahu's fear of the threat of justice. The citizens of Israel deserve leadership that serves the public interest. The protest will continue."

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