Police have told the organizers of an anti-annexation protest that it cannot be held in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square because of coronavirus regulations, organizers said Thursday.
The protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stated plan to annex parts of the West Bank was scheduled to take place in the square on Saturday. Police suggested that the protest be held in the city's Yarkon Park instead, citing regulations and saying that too many people were expected to attend, according to activists.
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Police said in a statement that they had told organizers the square wasn't large enough for the number of protesters expected: “It was made clear to the organizers that the square can’t contain the amount of protesters expected to show up.” According to police, a proposal for an alternative location “was unfortunately turned down,” adding that the organizers “showed no responsibility for the protesters’ safety and health.”
The joint Jewish-Arab protest against annexation was to include a 10,000-strong march on Saturday night, from the Tel Aviv Museum to Rabin Square, the square next to City Hall that has been the site of many large protests over the years. Many buses had been organized to bring protesters from all around the country to Saturday’s rally.
But on Wednesday, police told organizers that they could not march and asked them to put a damper on attendance amid a rise in coronavirus cases, saying that a rally with more than 1,800 people in the square was forbidden. Organizers told police that protests with more participants had been held during periods with more stringent restrictions, but this failed to convince them, they said.
The organizers said they are considering petitioning the High Court of Justice.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators took on Thursday to Rabin Square to protest Israel’s latest coronavirus regulations, which they claim are overreaching and harm civil liberties. The protesters blocked the nearby Ibn Gabirol street, with police forces redirecting traffic to other roads.
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At about midnight the police instructed protesters to clear the area, warning them they would be forcefully removed if they disobey orders.
Shortly thereafter, police forces violently handled those who refused to leave the area. One woman was injured and needed medical treatment, while 12 demonstrators were arrested by the police.
Documentation of the arrests shows police officers used excessive force on protesters who were blocking the road.
The police said in a statement that they had “detained several people who caused disturbances, while blocking roads in Tel Aviv, assaulting other civilians and police officers and vandalizing property.”
According to the statement, “Police forces began removing protesters from the area and arresting some of them after they hurled bottles at vehicles and assaulted passerby.
“While removing those demonstrators, some of them hit the police officers, who were fulfilling their duties, and threw objects at them. Twelve protesters were arrested and taken in for questioning,” the statement read.
“Everyone is entitled to exercise their right to protest and freedom of speech, while upholding the law and maintaining public order. However, demonstrators who blatantly trample the law and use violence against civilians and police officers will be arrested and brought to justice,” the police said.
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said on Twitter that Saturday's event should go ahead as planned. "It isn’t surprising that the only demonstration the police are trying to prevent is an Arab-Jewish one against the annexation and the occupation and for peace and democracy," he wrote. "The coronavirus is dangerous, but we mustn’t give up the right to protest in public."
Earlier this week, the police blocked a march against violence against women planned for Monday.
Netanyahu has set July 1 as the deadline for beginning the process of unilaterally annexing settlements established in the West Bank since 1967, including the Jordan Valley. This week, he sought to reassure settler leaders that annexation would be promoted independently of U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East plan. In past weeks, settlers have opposed the conditions delineated in the Trump plan, namely a freeze on settlement expansion and the isolation of some 15 settlements inside territories of a future Palestinian state, which they also oppose the establishment of.
After the meeting with settlers leaders this week, Netanyahu's office put out a statement that the prime minister is committed to negotiations with Palestinians under the Trump plan.