About 20,000 protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem Saturday evening for the tenth week in a row, calling for his resignation, as tensions with police run high following documented incidents of police violence at last week's protest.
Parallel protests were held outside Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea and at over 300 bridges and major intersections nationwide.
After midnight, the Jerusalem police forcefully evacuated several hundred protesters who sat on the ground and blocked the road. Officers also handed out traffic fines to protesters who blocked routes.
Sixteen protesters were arrested, among them a few from the Bratslav Hasidim sect. They had joined the demonstration in protest of the government’s decision to prevent them from flying to the Ukrainian city of Uman for an annual pilgrimage.
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Earlier, 2,000 protesters assembled at the Chords Bridge, at the entrance of Jerusalem, and marched to Paris Square, where the main demonstration was taking place. Police decided to allow it, despite it taking place without prior approval and forcing the city's light rail to stop along the route.
Police tried to stop the march along Jaffa Street, where minor clashes happened with some protesters. They marched on and met with the many other thousands waiting for them at Paris Square. At last week's protest, a similar march was held and instigated an increase in the use of force by police.
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Police started taking out metal barriers from some entry points to the square, apparently in order to accommodate the record number of protesters.
At 9:30 P.M., police started to confiscate musical instruments and other noise-making devices. They had previously hung signs in Paris Square saying that no microphones, speakers, sound systems and bullhorns would be allowed past that time, in accordance with a high court decision. At 11 P.M. the crowd went silent and sat on the ground.
Some 200 members of the Bratslav Hasidim ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect also joined the demonstration, protesting against the Israeli government’s decision to prevent them from flying to the Ukrainian city of Uman for an annual pilgrimage.
Members of the community marched toward Paris Square, carrying signs that read “Liar-yahu” and “Liar Netanyahu go home.” One protester shouted, “You tried to pull one over on us, Netanyahu… You must know that we have nothing except for Uman on the Jewish New Year. This is our lives, this is the air we breathe, we won’t give up, Balfour we’re coming!” Another said, “Bibi, you have lost our votes.” Protesters danced and sang “Uman for the New Year.”
The Israel Police deployed in larger numbers, given expectations of a large turnout. Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yedid is expected to oversee operations, replacing the lower-ranking officer who has been in charge so far. Chief Superintendent Nisso Guetta, who was documented beating protesters at last week's demonstration, is expected to be present despite calls for his removal from protest duty.
“The Israel Police is aware of various posts on social media by extremists calling to arrive and clash with police and to turn the protests into disturbances of the peace and physically harm police officers,” the police wrote in a statement.
“We call on the protesters to refrain from violence and provocation. Israel Police officers are prepared and retain the right, at any moment, to protect and defend public order, to allow for everyone safety... and, with that, the freedom of expression of the protesters”
The Black Flag Movement, among the groups organizing the protest, responded, saying the statement was “another testament that the police commanders have lost their way and cannot take the political pressure from Netanyahu and [Public Security Minister] Ohana."
"We want to make clear – there are no extreme voices calling to harm police officers and disturb the peace – they are calling for Netanyahu's removal from the post of prime minister,” the statement said. “The Jerusalem Police should start protecting the protesters and not the corrupt [politicians]."
"We’ve lost all confidence in our elected officials who, instead of serving us, the country’s citizens, are busy conducting cynical and out-of-touch politics," said an organizer with a coalition of youth groups called the Balfour Protest.
Several groups of protesters have turned to acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen in recent days, asking him to reduce tensions and demanding that Guetta, who was questioned by the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police misconduct, not be allowed to attend the protest. “Your honor is requested to prevent violent policemen, particularly Guetta, from being part of the police force securing the demonstration, thus preventing people from being assaulted”, wrote one group of protesters that included retired general Amir Haskel, former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon, and others. Cohen has not replied so far.
The Black Flag movement has also organized protests at 315 intersections and bridges across the country. “While the country is collapsing, Netanyahu was busy from morning till night this week, trying to change the prosecutor in his trial and attempting to appoint a police commissioner who will not investigate the submarines and surface vessels affair. The country must remove the yoke Netanyahu has placed it under, a yoke that is crushing the economy, health and social cohesiveness that have characterized Israel. Israel deserves hope and a better future, not living in fear of a tyrant,” said the organization.
Israeli expats rallied in solidarity in 18 cities around the world, broadcasting live on Zoom.