Jerusalem municipal inspectors began removing equipment from the protest encampment on Wednesday that had been erected in the city’s Independence Park. Clashes erupted as demonstrators resisted the 20 inspectors who were dispatched to the site and who arrived with police reinforcements.
The encampment was set up with relatively little commotion and has served as a rear-guard site to the main protest tent nearby next to the prime minister’s residence. Those who set up the site in the park have said that their focus has not only been to get Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, but also on what happens afterward. On Monday inspectors came to the encampment demanding that the demonstrators leave, but as with the site near the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street, it only emboldened them to remain.
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Avi Ofer, one of those who set up the encampment in the park, said when protest leader Amir Haskel was arrested in front of the prime minister’s residence three weeks ago, he began to think that the only way to force Netanyahu’s resignation was by recruiting tens of thousands of people to remain at a protest venue.
“Since then, I’ve been working to attain that number,” he said. “The idea is to do something quieter here, that would be part of the protest but in the background. Here the message is more positive – what we want after Bibi, what kind of society, what kind of government,” he said.
Over the past several days, in an effort not to attract the attention of municipal officials and police and to avoid breaking the law, the protesters slept in the open air without tents. They also refrained from hanging signs from the trees in the area.
The Independence Park site earned a reputation as a much more comfortable place to spend the night than the sidewalk adjacent to the prime minister’s residence. It has trees and grass and rest room facilities and even a wading pool for children. Perhaps more importantly, it hadn’t drawn shouting supporters of the prime minister. It had become so attractive that some of the protesters expressed concern that it would compete with the Balfour Street protest, which has not happened.
Over the past week, about 20 people have spent each night at the encampment. Following the major demonstrations that have taken place on a regular basis on Balfour, police officers have tried to evict them from Independence Park, sometimes by force.
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On Tuesday, a large number of inspectors and police came to the site and demanded that the protesters evacuate. An argument ensued and Ofer called for support from the protesters on Balfour. The few dozen protesters at Independence Park swelled to 200, Ofer said. Negotiations followed “and in the end, we and the equipment remained at the site.”
Ananda Pini Mogilevsky, another protester involved in setting up the encampment in Independence Park, said he slept on the sidewalk and admires those who have managed to do so over a longer period. “It’s not easy,” he said. “I understood that this fight was going to continue over time and that we need to sleep somewhere comfortable under trees – and not just speak about what we are against but what we are in favor of.”
“This protest brings together a lot of things that we favor,” said Avia and Eylon Zer, after spending Sunday night in the park with their 2-month-old and 2-year-old children. “Something big is happening here, and people need to take part in it.”