A Jerusalem court approved on Sunday a restraining order against anti-government activists who participated in a Saturday march against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the city. According to the order, the four protesters can't go near the prime minister's official residence for three weeks.
The activists were arrested by plainclothes police officers in unmarked vehicles. One of those arrested said that a police car hit him in the leg and that officers beat him until he lost consciousness. Police refuted the report, saying that the protester attacked a police officer after taking part in an illegal march.
The march, in which about 1,500 people participated, began in Paris Square, near the prime minister's Balfour Street residence. They marched through downtown Jerusalem, the Mahaneh Yehuda market and the nearby Rehavia neighborhood. Police did not try to block the march, but towards the end, undercover police officers arrested two protesters on suspicion of leading it. Two other protesters were arrested for allegedly trying to interfere in one of the arrests.
One of the protest leaders, Hagai Elron, was arrested after he left the demonstration and was on his way home. “The babysitter called and said the kid had woken up, so my wife and I left,” he said. Police officers, he said, were waiting by his home. He was taken in an unmarked vehicle and waited for about three hours in the capital's Sacher Park, until he was transferred to a bus alongside others who were arrested. They were taken to the Moriah police station, where he was detained overnight.
Elron was brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Sunday morning, where the police asked the judge to order him to stay away from the Balfour Street protests for 60 days. Attorney Shlomi Ben Dor, representing the police, told the court: "We've seen many that protesters have been taking the law into their own hands over the past month, and leading unapproved and illegal marches throughout Jerusalem, outside of the protest compound on Balfour." This leads to disruptions throughout the city, Ben Dor said, including road closures and confrontations with police and counter-protesters.
Elron’s lawyer, Lea Tsemel, noted that at no point in the march did the police declare that it was illegal, and that Elron did not stand out in particular among the marchers.
Judge Oren Silverman ordered Elron to stay away from the protests near the prime minister’s residence and illegal demonstrations for three weeks. The investigative materials do not clearly show that Elron lead the march, "But there is certainly evidence that supports the police's claim that [Elron] significantly cheered on the illegal march," Silverman wrote in his decision. "There are ways in which it is permitted to conduct a protest, and there are ways that cross the line." Tsemel said she would consider appealing the ruling.
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Another protester, Daniel Palanker, was also arrested near the end of the march on suspicion that he led it. "Four plainclothes [policemen] approached me; they didn't say who or what they were or show me identification, nothing," Palanker said. They handcuffed him and detained him. "The police questioned me about who set off the march and who led it," he said, adding that the investigators wanted him to distance himself from the protest for 15 days. They settled on just six days, and Palanker was not taken to court.
Two other protesters were detained for trying to interfere with Palanker’s arrest; because the arresting officers were in plainclothes, they thought that Palanker was being attacked by right-wing counter-protesters. Eldar Blau, 28, said the officer driving the car that carried Palanker was lurching forward to frighten the people who gathered because of the commotion, and hit him in the leg.
"I shouted and the officer threw me onto the floor. That seemed bizarre, so I followed him and asked to see identification. He came towards me like he was going to show me his ID and then beat me." Blau said that he was put into a police car, where one of the officers sat on him while others hit him. He lost consciousness and came to while in handcuffs. He and another protester, Almog Saadon, were arrested on suspicion of attacking police and were held overnight.
Silverman also ordered Blau and Saadon to keep away from Balfour for three weeks. The police representative said during the hearing that Blau "disturbed police work and punched and kicked an officer." He added that the police considered requesting that Blau's detention be extended, but decided against it due to his clean record.
The police did not deny that the purpose of some of their activities against protest leaders is to deter those leading the marches. A police source told Haaretz that one way of preventing the marches is arresting those who lead them on suspicion of disturbing the peace. “You can’t stand with a megaphone at the head of a march and yell to turn right or left, and think they haven’t singled you out,” said the source.
The Israel Police released a statement calling Blau's account "An unacceptable attempt to slander and defame the work of police officers as the law instead of condemning the unacceptable behavior of the suspect." It added, "During the protest, hundreds of protesters started an illegal march in the city streets, disturbed the public order and blocked roads. The suspect was detained for questioning after he disturbed the public order and attacked a police officer.
"During questioning, he was offered to be evacuated for medical assistance but refused. After he was questioned, he was brought before the court, which granted the police's request to release him on conditions and ruled that in light of the testimony and evidence of the event, an unconditional release would be inappropriate. We will continue to allow the freedom of protest for all people according to the law, but we will not allow attacks on police officers and illegal disturbances of the peace."