Israel Says Protesters Tried to Breach Prime Minister’s Compound, Despite Lack of Witness Testimony

State says in response to High Court petition against use of water cannons that demonstrators also threw stones, although alleged incidents weren’t mentioned by police in press conference after protest

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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A demonstration in front of the prime minister's official residence, Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.
A demonstration in front of the prime minister's official residence, Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The Israeli government defended the police’s use of water cannons against demonstrators at a recent protest by saying on Tuesday that they had tried to break into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residential compound and hurled rocks, although this was not witnessed by Haaretz reporters or mentioned by police in the press conference that followed the demonstration.

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Responding to the petition submitted to the High Court of Justice against the use of water cannons during Saturday’s protest in Jerusalem against Netanyahu’s government, the state wrote that protesters “tried to break into the prime minister’s compound and threw stones at police before the water cannon was used.”

The government’s response relied on an affidavit signed by the Jerusalem Police’s operations officer, Commander Amir Arzani.

Following a request for comment regarding the alleged attempt to break into the compound, police told Haaretz that the demonstrators had tried “to breach the fencing next to the compound.”

A demonstration in front of the prime minister's official residence, Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Haaretz reporters who were at the demonstration saw no stone-throwing or attempt to breach the residential compound, nor did the police mention any such incidents during a press conference held after the demonstration.

Attorney Gonen Ben-Itzhak, who filed the petition against acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen on behalf of the New Contract anti-corruption group, said that the police response “creates a disturbing feeling that the police are presenting a false picture to the High Court.” According to Ben-Itzhak, “The demonstration on Saturday night, although it attracted a big crowd, was a quiet demonstration. There was no violence against the police, and of course no one planned to or in fact tried to break into the prime minister’s residence.”

In its response to the petition, the state wrote that the use of water cannons came after a police officer announced to the protesters, after many hours of demonstrating, that they had to disperse. According to the government’s response, water cannons are only used with the direct approval of Jerusalem Police commander, Maj. Gen. Doron Yedid.

During the use of the water cannons on Saturday, several demonstrators fainted from the force of the water on their heads or were left injured and bleeding after falling to the ground. Haaretz found that police were violating their own internal rules, which bar aiming for demonstrators’ heads with the jet spray.

“The protests near the prime minister’s residence generally had the character of an event that begins with a nonviolent mass protest with clear focal points," the state said. "However, in some cases there were sporadic episodes of violence that included shoving, throwing of objects and attempts to breach fences. Regardless, when the police started to disperse the demonstration, disturbances began, accompanied by violence against police forces and the blocking of roads, which require the use of the water cannon by police.”

The government further wrote that use of the water cannons had been aimed at “restoring peace and public order,” and that it “prevents the escalation of disturbances and reduces the need for direct contact and friction between the police and the rioters, and makes it possible to avoid detentions and arrests.”

Demonstration in front of the prime minister's official residence, Jerusalem, July 25, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The state confirmed in its response that the demonstrations do not require approval by the police commissioner. This clarification came after Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s request for police not to permit demonstrations to take place in front of the prime minister’s official residence over disturbances to neighbors.

The State Prosecutor’s Office division that deals with High Court matters wrote that, “For the sake of order, it should be clarified that given the character of the demonstrations, they do not require prior approval by the police.”

The State Prosecutor’s Office told Haaretz that “the factual bases for the state’s response was given to the State Prosecutor’s Office by the Israel Police.” The police said that on Saturday, “after midnight, when most of the protesters had dispersed, hundreds of protesters began to disturb the peace and riot, with some of them even throwing stones at police and trying to breach the fence next to the prime minister’s compound. We take every attempt to disturb the peace and hurt policeman with stones or any other way seriously.”

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