Five demonstrators were attacked Tuesday night by an unidentified group as hundreds protested near the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv against police brutality and what they view as attempts to subdue the growing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent weeks.
Protesters recount being assaulted by a group of people who infiltrated the protest. The attackers stabbed protesters with broken glass bottles, punched them, beat them with chairs and sprayed them with pepper spray. Two of the demonstrators were cut on their necks, one requiring stitches.
According to the demonstrators, police ignored their calls for help and, only later arriving at the scene to break up the clashes. The attackers, whose identity is unknown and who pretended they are part of the anti-government protest, managed to escape the scene.
One demonstrator who received medical attention while sprawled on the ground said: “They came to murder us. Where are the cops? My friend was attacked with a bottle to his head and they sprayed mace in my face."
Omer Cohen, another protester who was attacked said, “They came in a big group and beat me while throwing broken glass bottles at me.”
The attackers, dressed in black, threw stones, glass bottles and sprayed mace at some of the protesters who had walked from Ohana's home to the Ayalon Highway, briefly blocking parts of it. The group began beating the demonstrators suddenly and without any provocation on their part. Some eyewitnesses said the attackers were right-wing activists who sneaked into the protests, while other say they belonged to the so-called La Familia, an extremist organization of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team.
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Another anti-government protester, Yakir Ben Maor, said that one of the attackers punched a demonstrator for no apparent reason. They then fled the protest, spraying pepper spray at the demonstrators.
Dor Segal, an eyewitness, told Haaretz that the group was full with hatred. “People are scared coming to protesters because of this. It’s frightening to think that next time the attackers will use a knife.”
Itamar Katzir, a Haaretz reporter who was at the scene and followed the unknown individuals said, “just several meters before the Cinematheque, I saw a protester who got punched in the face with at least 10 people surrounding him.” Katzir added that two of them held black flags, "so I didn’t know if they were pretending to be protesters belonging to the anti-corruption Black Flags movement, but it seemed they were looking for trouble. When I reached the Cinematheque, they started randomly beating people with chairs, bottles and flags, and I tried to catch them. It took the police to arrive a long time, they didn’t realize that group of people was going around attacking people."
In response, Netanyahu said "I expect the police to get to the truth of the matter and carry out justice for those responsible."
Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said that “gratuitous hatred has ruined and keeps on ruining the people of Israel, whose true resilience emanates from its unity. Those who attacked the protesters must be apprehended and brought to justice. No one will silence protests in Israel while we are here.”
Transportation Minister Miri Regev tweeted: On the eve of Tisha B'Av (a Jewish day of mourning), there are those who choose to inflame the hatred and deepen the polarization. It’s only a matter of time until an exhibit of a guillotine and a noose is erected. I call on Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, stop shutting your eyes and immediately remove this incitement exhibit.
Police Commissioner Moti Cohen said that “Our duty is to allow the freedom of protest for every citizen in accordance with the law. Our duty is to work for the implementation of civil rights for all of Israel’s citizens, as we have been doing every day.
“The wellbeing of the public and its safety are our first priority, and therefore we will act with determination against any kind of violence, vandalism or inflicting harm to civilians and police officers. I call on the demonstrators to keep the protest free of violence, follow police orders and not allow protests to escalate to violence and breaking the law,” Cohen added.
The Israel Police issued a statement saying that “We gravely view any kind of violence, whether it’s directed towards civilians or police officers. Last night, protests were staged across Tel Aviv, which were not coordinated with the police. In one location, a police force spotted an altercation and one person suspected of throwing stones was arrested. Police added that they would request the court to extend the suspect’s detention on Wednesday.”
On Wednesday, police said they had arrested three people suspected of attacking anti-Netanyahu protesters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night. "We will allow protests any time and any place but we will not permit violence or vandalism," the police said.