Key Ministries, Police Draw Up Protest Restriction Plan for Coronavirus Lockdown

With the final details to be thrashed out and demonstrations set to continue, the police insist they will protect the freedom to protest

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.Anti-Netanyahu protesters during the coronavirus crisis
.Anti-Netanyahu protesters during the coronavirus crisisCredit: Corinna Kerr/Reuters

Israel's Justice Ministry, Health Ministry and police are formulating a plan to limit the number of demonstrators at protests during the lockdown, particularly the weekly demonstrations against the prime minister near his residence in Jerusalem.

Following discussions in the last few days among senior Justice Ministry officials, the Health Ministry director general and the police, it is not yet clear how many demonstrators will be permitted, whether residents can demonstrate beyond 500 meters from their homes, and how the police will be able to stop demonstrators exceeding the limit from protesting.

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Although police support limiting the number of demonstrators, one senior police official said “We are also having difficulty explaining why a demonstration is permitted but other open-air gatherings are forbidden.”  The source added, “We must regulate the demonstrations and permit freedom of expression, but at least let there be distance between the demonstrators.”

This comes after the Health Ministry's proposal, similar to the capsule plan permitted at performance, was rejected by police on the grounds it would be too difficult to enforce at demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Justice Ministry officials said there was no comparison between prayer services and demonstrations, because of the significant differences in their frequency, though the High Court of Justice will hear a petition on Thursday by mayors invoking such a comparison.

Amid these discussions, there is expected to be a Black Flag demonstration on bridges and junctions throughout the country, while a demonstration is planned near the prime minister’s residence on Sunday night, after Rosh Hashanah ends.

The state said the attorney general was due to chair a meeting on the issue of protests during the lockdown at the late hours of the night, without any connection to the petition. "It’s doubtful there can be an effective discussion over the petition. So long as the hearing remains as scheduled, the state will update the honorable court on the developments before or during the date of the hearing,” the statement added.

On Tuesday the Knesset legal adviser made it clear that the government is not authorized to prevent people from demonstrating during the lockdown.  In a preliminary response to the High Court, attorney Avital Sompolinsky from the Knesset legal adviser’s office said, “The government is not authorized to restrict freedom of movement in a way that will prevent participating in a demonstration.” Her response drew on a petition filed by the National Responsibility organization against the coronavirus law passed in July which states the government cannot ban demonstrations, but it can limit them.

The police said in response, “Even during this difficult period the Israel Police allow every person freedom of expression and protest within the legal limits. In this context, police will act in accordance with the guidelines from officials. ”

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