Protesters clashed with police Saturday as hundreds of anti-government demonstrations were held across Israel under the banner "a kilometer it is," referring to the government restriction passed last week that limited protesters to a one kilometer radius of their homes.
The Black Flag movement estimated that 130,000 people took part in Saturday's protests against Netanyahu in cities and towns across the country.
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Clashes between protesters and police broke out in Tel Aviv, with arrests taking place and mounted units deployed. Protesters breached police barricades near Habima Square and began marching through the city while blocking traffic. In south Tel Aviv, officers were documented punching protesters as they attempted to break through crowds. Police claim that protesters are violating coronavirus restrictions and disturbing the public order.
Police said they had arrested 38 protesters in Tel Aviv for disorderly conduct and assaulting police officers. A police statement claimed those arrested "violated public order, blocked streets, ignored police orders and resorted to physical and verbal violence." Police also added that they handed hundreds of coronavirus fines to demonstrators in the city.
A local police chief also claimed that protesters used violence against police, which included throwing eggs at the forces, and said that a policewoman was injured during the clashes, but did not elaborate on the claim.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was also seen at the protest in Tel Aviv and appears to have been lightly injured amid the clashes, yet it is unclear exactly how he sustained the injury. Huldai said that he is feeling well and continuing to circulate among the protesters.
Before the clashes broke out dozens of police officers circled the some thousand protesters in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, approaching protesters in order to check if their place of residence is within one kilometer of the protest. Police also handed out fines to protesters, and confirmed late Saturday night that they had handed out hundreds of fines in Tel Aviv alone for violations of the emergency regulations.
Haaretz reporter Bar Peleg was fined for "not keeping distance" – a charge that does not exist – despite showing his press badge while covering the protest.
Police reported that they disbanded a demonstration at Kikar Hamoshavot in Tel Aviv attended by hundreds of protesters on the ground that the participants had "violated the emergency regulations". They added that they had arrested and fined certain of the protesters for disrupting public order.
Police also reported that they arrested three protesters in Kfar Sava at a demonstration near the Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi's home, on the grounds that the protesters did not comply with the emergency regulations, as well as restrictions applicable to demonstrations held near the private homes of elected officials and public servants. The police said that they had repeatedly asked protesters to disperse and leave the area. The police added that they will "allow the freedom of protest but will not allow a blatant violation of the law and non-compliance with the guidelines of the Health Ministry."
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In response to reports of violence waged againt protesters Saturday night, the Black Flag movement said: "Despite a letter sent to [the police] with the locations of the demonstrations, the Israeli police chose to abandon the security of the demonstrators and concentrated on registering and issuing fines... After the events of the past week, the question arises as to whether it is an inability to protect the public or an unwillingness to do so."
The rallies, which began on Thursday and Friday in the wake of the new distance limitations on protests, are a joint effort by organizations that have been protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s continued tenure despite having been criminally indicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases.
Violence against protesters
The "Rise Israel" protest organization reported several acts of violence against protesters across the country. In Tel Aviv, two demonstrators who were attacked were evacuated to the hospital, and in Ramat Gan, glass bottles were thrown from a balcony at protesters. A demonstrator was beaten in Jerusalem and another demonstrator was knocked over. In Holon, a glass bottle was thrown at protesters, and in Haifa, firecrackers were thrown at protesters.
Members of the Black Flags movement also reported an attack on protesters in Tel Aviv. Yuval Barak, the daughter of the woman who was attacked, told Haaretz :“My parents went to protest behind [their] house at the nearby square. My mom had a horn. Someone came toward my dad and started yelling and when my mom honked her horn he turned around and punched her in the face. He broke the horn in her face and she’s bleeding.” Barak added that protesters chased after the assailant.
Another protester was reportedly attacked and sent to the hospital in Kiryat HaYovel in Jerusalem. According to an eyewitness, a driver began yelling at and cursing protesters from his vehicle. When one protester approached the car, the assailant kicked and hit him. A police officer separated the assailant from the protest and suggested that the protesters file a complaint. The assailant left the scene.
In Pardes Hannah a protester was taken to the hospital with a broken hand after he was reportedly attacked by 15 people. Police arrested a 25-year-old Pardes Hannah resident on suspicion of being involved in the attack.
According to eyewitnesses, the protester was chased and beaten after attempting to intervene when the group spat on a fellow protester. "They were Bibistim," the protester said, referring to the nickname for fans of Netanyahu. "When I passed by them with a sign, they cursed at me. They had no reason to spit on her, unless it was political." The protester added, "They chased me, knocked me to the ground and lynched me. They kicked me in the ribs and in the face. I ran away from them."
Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted on Saturday night that violence against protesters is "intolerable," adding that the demonstrations are a "legitimate and vital aspect of democracy." He called on police to apprehend those attacking protesters and bring them to justice.
The Black Flags responded to Benny Gantz in a fiery tone: "Words do not suffice: as long as you serve the defendant you are just as guilty as he is – resign!"
Kahol Lavan lawmaker Miki Haimovich, who chairs the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, attended the demonstrations in Tel Aviv on Saturday night following reports from protesters of police brutality and unlawful arrests. She said that she is "very worried" by what she saw, and noted that she had made efforts to speak with police leadership on the ground to curb violence, to no avail. Haimovich added that "the police used unreasonable force" and suggested that the clashes escalated following provocations by the police.
Likud lawmaker Shlomo Karai, called for the immediate dismissal of Haimovich from her position as chair of the Interior Committee because “she demonstrates against the government, votes against its decisions.” He added that at least lawmaker Merav Michaeli, who demonstrated alongside her, “has the integrity to do so from the opposition.”
Other Knesset members spoke out following the protests condemning violence against protesters by police and others. Labor and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli said "The incitement that brings about violence toward protesters, good Israelis who are suffering under these circumstances, must stop. We cannot be dragged into a civil war." Ofer Shelah of Yesh Atid said "The police conduct during tonight's protest crossed the line."
'Battle for better leadership'
Among the some one hundred people who gathered at Safra Square in Haifa, Datya, who attends protests on a weekly basis, said: “I pray that we can leave our children a nation at least as good as the one we got. I hear the despair of young people and it worries me.”
One protester in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, Yuval, said, "before we were just worried about the corruption, now we're out here to show them that they can't shut us up."
Among the dozens of protesters at Oranit, a settlement near the Green Line, Rita said: "I have always supported the protest, and once they limited the distance, I decided to join, [because] from my perspective, they've crossed every possible line. Each of us has a red line. I define myself as center-right, but this is not a left-right struggle but rather a battle for better leadership. We simply feel that we don't have a father or mother."
The unprecedented restrictions which went into effect Thursday night are valid until October 7, and bar individuals from protesting more than one kilometer from their homes. Under the new regulations, demonstrators must maintain a distance of two meters from one another at all times, and may only demonstrate in groups of up to 20 people at a time.
The organization Crime Minister called on participants to join under the banner “The whole country is Balfour,” referring to the protest encampent adjacent to the prime minister’s official Jerusalem residence where thousands of people from all over the country had been gathering to protest on a weekly basis for the past few months.
Activists are expected to attempt to march through Tel Aviv on Saturday night, as they did on Wednesday and Thursday. At Thursday night's demonstration, 15 protesters were arrested, two people were injured by police horses, and another was rammed by a car that drove into a throng of protestors crossing a junction.
Several of the youth organizations joining the protest released a joint statement on Saturday: “While Israel’s citizens are being economically crushed, the government is obsessively occupied with protests instead of working toward an assistance plan. They are silencing public criticism lodged against their failures during the coronavirus crisis. But we will not give up our freedom to speak out. We will shout today throughout the country, from north to south."
The Black Flags protest movement said in a statement: “We are at a fateful historic moment, over 1,000 protests with tens of thousands of participants who are no longer willing to accept the situation that the indicted individual is dragging all of us into after him. Israel threw 35 billion shekels of taxpayers’ money into the garbage that we the citizens paid just because of Netanyahu’s obsession to stop the demonstrations. Netanyahu’s continuing in office is the greatest threat to Israel, the coronavirus will not be solved until Netanyahu resigns. We call on [Kahol Lavan] ministers Yizhar Shai and Orit Farkash-Cohen to resign to save Israel from Netanyahu.”