Five people were injured Tuesday night after unknown individuals attacked protestors following a hundreds-strong demonstration near the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Tel Aviv against police brutality and what they view as attempts to suppress the anti-government movement.
The attackers, dressed in black, threw stones, glass bottles and pepper sprayed some of the protesters who had walked from Ohana's home to the Ayalon Highway, briefly blocking parts of it. The group began beating the demonstrators suddenly and without any provocation on their part.
Carrying black flags and wearing hats and masks, the attackers did not identify themselves, with eyewitnesses saying they were right-wing activists who infiltrated the march. Others said that members of the so-called La Familia, an extremist organization of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, infiltrated the rally after watching a game nearby and attacked the protesters.
The attack occurred after most of the protesters had already left the area after blocking many roads in the heart of Tel Aviv for hours.
Protesters carried signs with the photos and names of victims of police violence and slogans against police violence and the use of water cannons against peaceful protesters. Two protestors were detained.
The protest was organized by several groups, including the so-called Black Flags movement, which regularly protests outside the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhau's official residence in Jerusalem. The group said it opposes "Ohana's meddling in the work of the Israel Police, in order to quell a popular, non-violent protest."
Last week, Ohana asked the police to consider preventing protests from taking place near Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem. In response, law enforcement representatives cited a Supreme Court ruling that it wasn't possible to prevent a protest from taking place.
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Protest organizers also said Ohana's suppression policy includes handing out fines for people not wearing a mask. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit wrote a letter to the Acting Chief of Police Moti Cohen on Tuesday, saying he does not believe the police are excessively fining anti-Netanyahu protesters.
"What's happening here is really scary," said one protester, Naomi Beyth from Tel Aviv. She said massive police presence "feels like they're trying to suffocate us. Ohana and Netanyahu's long arm are applying pressure on protesters ... I want to leave a better place for my children."
Lev Littman, a resident of the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, said: “Netanyahu knows that if he loses his political power he goes to jail… During the coronavirus crisis his inability to manage the state revealed itself, and so we find ourselves suffocated in terms of the economy, police violence and democracy. Ohana is part of that gang that suffocates us and doesn’t care about our problems.”
Responding to the incident, Police Commissioner Moti Cohen said that “Our duty is to allow the freedom of protest for every citizen in accordance with the law. Our duty is to work for the implementation of civil rights for all of Israel’s citizens, as we have been doing every day.”
“The wellbeing of the public and its safety are our first priority, and therefore we will act with determination against any kind of violence, vandalism or inflicting harm to civilians and police officers. I call on the demonstrators to keep the protest free of violence, follow police orders and not allow protests to escalate to violence and breaking the law,” Cohen added.
The Israel Police issued a statement saying that “We gravely view any kind of violence, whether it’s directed towards civilians or police officers. Last night, protests were staged across Tel Aviv, which were not coordinated with the police. In one location, a police force spotted an altercation and one person suspected of throwing stones was arrested. Police added that they would request the court to extend the suspect’s detention on Wednesday.”
Police added that they “launched an investigation Wednesday morning into the incident and we intend to act accordingly against all those involved in the violence.”
Tuesday's demonstration was limited to no closer than 150 meters from Ohana's home, based on regulations the Tel Aviv police introduced in September, when activists regularly protested there, calling on authorities to investigate and prosecute the off-duty officer responsible for the fatal shooting of Black Israeli Solomon Teka in June 2019. Ohana served at the time as justice minister.