Jerusalem Police Arrest Driver Suspected of Trying to Run Over anti-Netanyahu Protesters

Driver was speeding near main protest site and 'putting protesters and police officers in danger,' police said, as anti-government demonstrations draw thousands across Israel despite coronavirus lockdown

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Police search a car after its driver was arrested on suspicion of trying to run over anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.
Police search a car after its driver was arrested on suspicion of trying to run over anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Several thousand protesters showed up on Sunday for a weekly anti-Netanyahu demonstration near the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem, which in its 13th week drew a smaller crowd than usual, as Israel in under a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

His detention was extended by two days.Police said they arrested a driver who was speeding near the main protest site, "putting protesters and police officers in danger." No injuries were reported, and the suspect, a 20-year-old resident of Jerusalem, was taken into questioning. Overall, 11 protesters were arrested or detained Sunday night for disturbance of the peace and assaulting a police officer.

Police arrest suspect in attempted car-ramming during an anti-Netanyahu protest in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.
Police arrest suspect in attempted car-ramming during an anti-Netanyahu protest in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.Credit: Assaf Sharon

Video footage of his arrest shows his car breaking at a short distance from the crowd. The suspect then exited the car and was taken by police.

Footage of the driver's arrest in Jerusalem.Credit: Oren Ziv/Local Call

Demonstrators called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, citing his trial in three corruption cases, while also protesting his government's response to the coronavirus outbreak and an ongoing economic crisis.

At around midnight, the police called on protesters to disperse the demonstration, and arrested those who refused to vacate the area. 

Anti-Netanyahu protester carries a sign with the Ten Commandments, Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protester carries a sign with the Ten Commandments, Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The police later said that all nearby streets were open to traffic. 

Police barriers at the Jerusalem protest site.

Hunderds of anti-Netanyahu protesters also gathered in Caesarea near the prime minister's private residece. One of them said: "I'm not for defying the lockdown, and I wouldn't have come if it was banned. But as a citizen I feel the need to protest, becuase what's going on here is unbelievable."

Also on Sunday, ultra-Orthodox protesters demonstrated in five cities over what organizers call "the lockdown's destructive ramifications, which hurt religious life, and citizens' welfare." They claim the government's restrictions disrupt the marking of the Jewish High Holy Days throughout this month.

Several demonstrators in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak torched garbage bins and hurled stones at police officers. The police said that a patrol vehicle was damaged, adding that one person was arrested.  

Protests are allowed during the three-week lockdown, but under restrictions released on Friday – the same day the lockdown began – demonstrators must stay within separated groups of up to 20 people.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Tel Aviv, September 20, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Tel Aviv, September 20, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Police have set up barriers at the main protest site in Jerusalem, but most protesters have ignored them, and police officials said they wouldn't enforce the new directives, which have not yet gone into effect.

As the crowds gathered, one activist was detained after police said he told protesters how to avoid being fined for not wearing a protective mask.

A senior police official told Haaretz that the police are aware that these planned protests may be used as a tactic to evade movement restrictions, because the police "cannot enforce regulations fully and if someone says they are on their way to a protest, they can't be fined." "We know that some intend to take advantage of these protests in order to allow families that spent the holiday outside their home, at relatives' or with their rabbis to return home and tell officers at roadblocks that they're on their way to a protest," said the official.

The wave of anti-Netanyahu protests in Jerusalem has been interrupted this week because of Rosh Hashanah and the coronavirus lockdown.

On Friday, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and the Health Ministry issued directives stating that demonstrators must be divided into separate groups of up to 20 people each and must wear face masks at all time. The space allocated for the protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem will be expanded to allow protesters to maintain social distancing.

Some protesters, however, were undeterred by the lockdown and on Saturday a group of 200 people held an anti-lockdown, anti-Netanyahu protest at a Tel Aviv beach. They maintained that the surge in coronavirus cases and subsequent lockdown was a result of Netanyahu's mishandling of the crisis. Some of the protesters told Haaretz they were unemployed and that the lockdown has further threatening their livelihood.  

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