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When Bruce Lee Meets anti-Netanyahu Protests

The restrictions led tens of thousands more Israelis to join the protests, which resumed on Saturday with renewed strength – and new tactics

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerualem, October 17, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerualem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

UPDATE: Anti-Netanyahu protests resume across Israel as business owners rejoin dissent

“Be like water” is how protesters in Hong Kong describe their tactics for marches. The idea is to make sure the march flows quickly, without a preset route, with sharp turns, splits and reunification of the masses. When faced with police officers trying to reroute them, the demonstrators pass them by, turn in the other direction or find a way out through yards and alleys – similar to water flowing down a slope and splitting up every time it runs into an obstacle, but never ceasing to flow.

The protesters in Hong Kong based their tactics on a famous statement by the actor and martial arts master Bruce Lee. The basic condition for the tactic to work is having a large enough group of young and fit demonstrators who can easily run long distances. The result is that the police find it very difficult to control the march and power shifts into the hands of the protesters. Over the past few weeks, this tactic has been adopted by the protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, and on Saturday, it reached Jerusalem too.

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At around 10 P.M. Saturday night, an hour when the protests usually begin to wind down, hundreds began marching from Paris Square near the prime minister’s official residence in the capital using the “water” method. They went down nearby Agron Street and when the police tried to block them – they began running. After that they turned and went through Independence Park and split up into two groups – one went in the direction of Zion Square and the other to King George Street downtown. Time after time the protesters managed to evade the police and entered areas where the anti-Netanyahu protests have never reached, including the Mahaneh Yehuda market. After 40 minutes, the two groups met up again and began a “race” with dozens of riot police officers along Sacher Park. If they had been a bit more determined they could have reached the Knesset too, but the protesters decided to stop and return to the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street.

Anti-Netanyahu demonstrators in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu demonstrators in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Before the march began, Balfour Street looked much the same as it has every Saturday night since the middle of July – thousands of young and older people filling every part of Paris Square, holding a variety of handwritten signs, Israeli flags, black flags, drums and plastic horns. Every single one of them was wearing a mask, but people weren’t too careful about social distancing or protesting in separate pods. At the height of the demonstration, at 9:30 P.M., the police announced over the loudspeakers that it was time to stop blowing the horns, but the announcement was swallowed up in the noise of the cries of thousands of voices chanting: “Bibi go home.” If Netanyahu had hoped that the lockdown would weaken the protests against him – he was wrong. The protests resumed and it seems like the protesters are even more determined now than they were before the second nationwide lockdown.

Groups of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators reunite in Jerusalem, October 17, 2020.Credit: Nir Hasson

The one-kilometer distance limits on protests that were enacted in September and only lifted late last week, resulted in the proliferation of demonstrations at intersections, squares and bridges in hundreds of places across the country. Over the past few weeks, protest signs even began to appear in settlements and so-called development towns, which until now had remained in the periphery – neither a focal point of the protests, let alone a visible presence there. Tens of thousands of Israelis who were not part of the protest movement discovered that protesting near their home was not just easier, but also a pretty good social event at a time when every other form of entertainment had been banned by the emergency regulations.

This is how the restrictions on demonstrations, which Netanyahu had fought for with all his strength, led tens of thousands of Israelis – mostly retired people and families – to switch from slacktivism to activism. All this, along with the adoption of the new tactics, has fueled the protest movement, leading it to become larger and smarter than it was before the lockdown.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters march in Jerusalem, October 17. 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters march in Jerusalem, October 17. 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

A wedding ceremony was held in Paris Square before the Jerusalem march on Saturday night. Omri Yavin and Dor Yaakobi, who were forced to cancel their wedding in Cyprus, were married during the demonstration. Filling in as the rabbi was Haaretz journalist Uri Misgav. “This was the best wedding I’ve been to. There were 10,000 people at my wedding, how many people can say that?” said Omri.

“I really like [film director Emir] Kusturica, and it reminded me of Kusturica’s wedding,” said Dor, referring to the wedding scene in “Underground.” I asked them about the mixing of personal and political. “All the people here have come because of the personal and political; any attempt to separate them is a mistake. Anyone who feels hungry or is in a psychological crisis comes both because of the personal and the political,” said Omri.

Protesters 'race' dozens of riot police officers in Jerusalem's Sacher Park, October 17, 2020.Credit: Nir Hasson

The date most frequently associated with the start of the mass protest is July 14. Since then, the protest has managed to overcome quite a few obstacles, mudslinging attempts by politicians, violence on the part of the police and right-wing activists and the lockdown restrictions. Three months later, it seems that the anger and frustration that drive the protest have not diminished at all – in fact, quite the opposite is true.

For the first time since June, a large demonstration by independent business owners – who have been one of the most prominent voices in the protest movement up to that point – will be held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Consequently, a march will be organized around Tel Aviv which will be joined by some of the protesters at the square.

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