Israeli Police Release Over 20 Arrested in Mass anti-Netanyahu Protests

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Protesters in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020.
Protesters in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Twenty-six anti-government protesters were released from police custody on Sunday after demonstrating near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence and demanding his resignation the previous day.

Ten of the protesters were banned from central Israel and are not permitted to enter Jerusalem for the next two weeks, and 10 Jerusalem residents have been barred from being in the vicinity of the prime minister’s residence for two weeks.

Meanwhile, a judge ordered police to release six people who would not agree to the condition of staying away from Jerusalem for 15 days, saying the request was not justified.

Three additional protesters who were arrested on Saturday are to be brought to court Sunday for a hearing on extending their custody. They include protesters suspected of assaulting Brig. Gen. Niso Guetta, who was filmed hitting a demonstrator. According to the police, the protester admitted to punching the officer. The Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct said they are opening a probe into a suspected attack by "a police officer with the rank of brigadier general" that was filmed during the protest.

Daniel Lotem, one of the protesters arrested on suspicion of attacking Guetta, told Haaretz on Sunday, speaking of Guetta: “He actually choked me. After that they pinned me to the ground and claimed that I choked him. They dragged me to the police van and two SWAT officers closed the curtains and beat me while I was cuffed. Regarding his alleged assault on Guetta, he said: “That never happened. I’ve been here at these demonstrations for three months already, and today the department that investigates police misconduct opened an investigation against Guetta on suspicion of assault.”

Police, for their part, said in response that "contrary to what was alleged, after the arrest of the suspect in the attack during last night's demonstration, he began to riot and attack the police who had to use reasonable force to control him and even had to call for help from other police officers." The Sunday statement continued by stating that "the severe and unlawful violence against the police last night led to the injury of five policemen, one of whom was kicked and suffered a broken rib … We will continue to allow freedom of protest within the limits of the law, but will not allow violent riots, disturbances of public order and violence against police officers in violation of the law."

Ronen Maynard, the partner of one of the protesters suspected of assaulting Guetta, who was also arrested, said police violence was out of control, recounting: “They put us on a bus and suddenly I see my partner all bruised. Four maniac SWAT officers put him into a police van, after they arrested him and kept on beating him. On the bus they refused to give him medical treatment.” Maynard said his partner was taken to a hospital only two hours later, after they arrived at the police station. “There’s no way this guy hit a policeman,” he said. “The SWAT maniacs choked him and he tried to get loose.”

About 10,000 people protested in Jerusalem on Saturday, with another 1,000 protesting next to Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea.  

Protester Amotz Tokatly said the confrontation with Guetta occurred on Bezalel Street during a march to the residence. "There were some of us who started talking to the cops and told them to watch over us, but then all of a sudden the cops started throwing people into a nearby cafe, just like that they started pushing people. This officer just took the first person he saw and threw him to the floor for no reason." Guetta has said that he was punched in a separate incident.

Brig. Gen. Ofer Shomer, who is Gueta’s commanding officer, said: “In a preliminary probe I did with Gueta, he said he was attacked by two protesters. One of them punched him in the face and scratched him and took off his mask. He made an arrest and the matter will be examined."

Among the 30 people arrested on Saturday was Moshe Meron, a right-wing activist leading a pro-Netanyahu encampment near the residence in Jerusalem. In recent weeks, Meron has stood in front of the encampment holding a sign reading “leftist traitors.” On Saturday night, Meron exchanged words with anti-Netanyahu protesters. At some point, a few protesters allegedly began hitting Meron. A policeman at the scene then detained Meron and demanded that he move his protest to the area designated for protesters in support of the prime minister. He was arrested when he refused to move. Before he could be released, he was asked to sign a document stating that he would be banned from the area near the residence for a month. Meron refused, and on Sunday the court ruled that he could only protest in the area of the right-wing encampment.

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