Israel Police Amp Up Forces, Brace for Larger Crowds at anti-Netanyahu Protest in Jerusalem

Group organizing transportation to Saturday’s protest says registration has doubled. Officer slammed for attacking protesters last week is back on duty

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Police and protesters in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020.
Police and protesters in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel Police are preparing to deploy in large numbers at the protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday, as organizers say they expect a far larger turn-out than in previous weeks.

The demonstration is expected to include a march from the Chords Bridge, located at the entrance to the city, to Paris Square, near the prime minister’s official residence in Balfour street. Police have not officially authorized the march, and attempted to forcefully break up a similar march at last week's protest.

The Black Flag movement, one of the main groups involved in organizing the protests, said Thursday that more than twice as many people had signed up for organized transportation to the protest than in previous weeks. The online registration site for the organized transportation says that buses will shuttle protesters to Jerusalem on Saturday evening from 86 different locations across Israel.

The demonstration in Jerusalem, on Saturday, August 22, 2020.
The demonstration in Jerusalem, on Saturday, August 22, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Jerusalem Police made some changes to their configuration in response to criticism of their heavy-handed response to the protests. Acting Israel Police chief stood by the force, saying that it was "not political" and was missioned to safeguard the right to protest. 

“We have reached a crossroads, which requires us all to pause," Motti Cohen said on Friday, "and analyze where we are headed as one people and a democratic society that wants to survive.”

Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Yedid will personally oversee police forces at the demonstration and outside Netanyahu's official residence. A lower ranking officer, Zion Precinct Commander Brig. Gen. Ofer Shomer, had been responsible for crowd control at the previous protests.

Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta, who had been questioned by the Justice Ministry's internal investigations unit after he was filmed beating protesters last week, will be deployed again at this Saturday's protest.

The Crime Minister organization petitioned the High Court of Justice to force police to provide an explaination for why Guetta was not suspended from duty for the protests. The group has demanded that Yedid “take the expected steps and immediately clarify the reasons for putting Guetta back on duty” despite an ongoing investigation on his behavior “and despite the public sensitivity and criticism given the possibility that the officer is suspected of involvement in four instances of serious assault.”

Chief Superintendent Shlomi Bachar, chief of operations for the Jerusalem district, said in a briefing to reporters that “Niso Guetta is an operations officer of the Zion district and will arrive and function as necessary. We operate professionally and so shall the officer.” He said police were preparing “to facilitate the right to protest and the right to demonstrate although no application has been submitted to hold an orderly demonstration…. In order for us to allow a march a request must be filed and we have proven that we shall allow this to happen.”

The Black Flags group said in response that “a letter on the issue was sent out on Sunday to the acting police chief. Unfortunately there has been no response to that letter.”

Yedid has complained that last week protesters had had a confrontational attitude toward police forces. Responding at a session of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee to complaints of violence on the part of police at the protest, Yedid said some of the organizations involved had announced on their websites ‘we are coming for war’ and came looking for confrontation with security forces.

Acting Police Chief Motti Cohen commented that the critics should be listened to “attentively” but that “there’s a discourse that is offensive, destructive and which sometimes borders on incitement, and this must be halted immediately.”

He called for demonstrators to heed police instructions, and urged that “we reduce the level of anger together and make sure we remain as one people, a democratic society alive and breathing with solidarity, friendship and a secure future."

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