Police clashed with protesters on Saturday at the end of a demonstration against plans to annex parts of the West Bank, with a Haaretz photographer being violently tackled to the ground by officers as he documented the scene. Five protesters were arrested and taken in for questioning. Police said the officers had mistakenly believed the photographer was a rioting protester.
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"I tried to film the cops, and then they decided to arrest me," said photographer Tomer Appelbaum after the incident, which was captured on video. "One punched me, one kneed me and one shoved my head." Some of his equipment was damaged, he said.
"After the protest that took place in Tel Aviv, there began to be disturbances, road blocking, and violent rioting, which required the police to disperse the rioters and conduct arrests," said a police statement. "During one of the arrests and in the circumstances that were created, the policemen thought he was one of those in the crowd who were rioting, and he was quickly released when it became clear that it was a photojournalist, and the incident will be looked into. We regret the incident."
Minister of Communications Yoaz Hendel said on Sunday morning that the police should "learn lessons" from the incident.
"Journalists and press photographers are just doing their job when they cover demonstrations, even those directed against me and my opinions, this is what happens in a democracy," he wrote.
He then clarified that his views were radically opposed to the protesters' on the future of "Judea and Samaria," Israeli parlance for the West Bank. Hendel, a lawmaker from Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, made headlines earlier this year after making disparaging comments against Arab culture.
About a thousand protesters remained in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square after the end of the demonstration, which drew some 6,000. Some protesters lay down on the pavement in protest of the police killing of 32-year-old autistic Palestinian Eyad Hallaq in Jerusalem’s Old City last Saturday. Police dispersed them with force after they refused to leave.
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A number of Israeli politicians addressed the rally, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joined via video conference, expressing his support for the protesters and condemnation of Israel’s annexation plans. The senator said that he was “heartened” to see Arabs and Jews demonstrating together.
Head of the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties, Ayman Odeh, told the crowd, “we are at a crossroads. One path leads to a joint society with a real democracy, civil and national equality for Arab citizens ... The second path leads to hatred, violence, annexation and apartheid,” Odeh said. "We’re here in Rabin Square to pick the first path,” he said.
“There is no such thing as democracy for Jews alone,” Odeh added. "Just like Martin Luther King and his supporters in the United States, we must realize that without justice there can be no peace. And there will be no social justice if we do not end the occupation,” Odeh said.
After initially telling organizers that they could not hold the protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, police said Friday that the demonstration would be allowed to proceed.