Some 50 protesters were arrested Tuesday night following clashes with police at a thousands-strong rally in Jerusalem demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign over his corruption charges.
On Wednesday morning, the police said the protesters were arrested on suspicion of causing public disturbance, acts of vandalism and assault of officers and the press. The police asked to extend the custody of eight of the protesters, while the rest have been released.
The protesters were brought to the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning for a hearing. One of the protesters, attorney Gonen Ben Itzhak, was led into the hearing in shackles, in violation of a High Court of Justice ruling. Ben Itzhak was unconditionally released shortly thereafter along with several other protesters.
Tuesday's protest began with several thousand Israelis gathered outside Netanyahu's official residence, calling for his resignation. Protesters blocked nearby streets for hours, despite police attempts to clear the area. Clashes broke out near a roadblock erected on Balfour street, where Netanyahu's residence is located, as police kept protesters from nearing Netanyahu's home. One protester attempted to jump the barrier, and others threw eggs and water bottles at police officers. A protester grabbed a microphone from a journalist, Avishay Ben Haim, and the protest organizers later issued a condemnation of the action.
Following the demonstration, thousands began marching toward the city center, while police chased after them. Hundreds blocked roads and light train tracks on Jaffa Street and the surrounding area. Intense clashes broke out between police and protesters. Protesters used chairs, tables and large umbrellas from nearby cafes to block the roads. Police used water cannons and mounted officers to disperse the crowd.
One man, who was suspected of being an undercover police officer, was beaten by protesters. He was mildly injured and taken to hospital for treatment.
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After about an hour of clashes, protesters returned to the area surrounding the prime minister's residence and continued blocking streets with garbage cans, paving stones and various other objects. Police arrested dozens of protesters and again used water cannons and mounted officers. Only near 1:00 A.M. did police manage to clear the intersection.
A dozen pro-Netanyahu protesters also demonstrated across from the Prime Minister's Residence. All the streets surrounding Paris Square by the Prime Minister's Residence on Balfour Street were blocked off.
Netanyahu addressed the protests on Twitter, condemning the violence and making no mention of the protest's cause or their relation to him: "The shameful attack at yesterday's left-wing protest of Dr. Avishay Ben Haim, along with the unruly violence against police, is worthy of all condemnation, shame and contempt."
The police said in a statement: "Several hundred demonstrators marched in the direction of Jerusalem city center, blocking the light rail route. The commander of the Jerusalem district, Major General Doron Yedid, arrived at the scene and is commanding the police forces who are working to restore public order."
One young protester, Yasmin, said: "I was born in '96, that means I've never known a world without Bibi. I don't know what it's like to have a sane prime minister." Another protester, who identified herself as Tami, said about the large turnout, "the youth have finally woken up." One 81-year-old protester was asked about the fear of infection at the protest amid the coronavirus crisis, "I'm not worried about my health, I'm worried about the health of the nation," he said.
Netanyahu has been drawing criticism not only for his alleged misconduct in the three corruption cases against him, but also for his attacks on the attorney general, the media, law enforcement and the judiciary in his arguments that the charges against him are baseless.
Protesters have also demanded further investigation into allegations of impropriety in the purchase of submarines from Germany.
Netanyahu's government has recently also been under fire for what protesters say is inadequate aid to those unable to work because of the coronavirus pandemic. The prime minister was also criticized for requesting and receiving approval for retroactive tax reimbursements during the economic crisis.
Amir Haskel, a protest leader who was arrested during an anti-Netanyahu demonstration last month, said at the protest: “From the first day here, we hoped to go from individuals to multitudes, but we can only rest on our laurels when the goal is attained, and that’s when Netanyahu goes home. We hoped for it, but we didn’t think it would get to this.”
On Monday, police and Jerusalem city inspectors cleared out a protest encampment across the street from the Prime Minister's Residence for the second day in a row. Law enforcement confiscated equipment and clashed with protesters, two of whom were hurt and taken to the hospital.
According to municipality protocol, protesters need a permit to put up a tent for more than 48 hours, and it is forbidden to erect it within 200 meters of the Prime Minister's Residence. The protesters said they had a permit to protest from the police, and therefore did not need municipal permission. Police told the media that they were there to protect municipal workers, who had received complaints from residents who live near the Prime Minister's Residence that the protesters' equipment blocked the sidewalk to pedestrians.
That came after a Saturday protest by some 10,000 people in Tel Aviv against the government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis, which resulted in 20 protesters being arrested. Also Saturday, protesters demanding Netanyahu’s resignation gathered at traffic junctions around the country, with 10 protesters being arrested.
Haskel was arrested along with six other demonstrators during a protest at the end of June ”on suspicion of disrupting public order and other offenses,” as police said. The Jerusalem District Court ordered his unconditional release the following day.
During the hearing, the police argued that Haskel had led a group of protesters with clear intent to block roads and cause a public disturbance “out of frustration that the protests are not gaining momentum.”
Police said they had no intention of breaking up the protest, but that Haskel and the other protesters had repeatedly refused peaceful orders to disperse. However, during the course of the hearing the police representative admitted that the three did not block roads.
Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv after his release, Haskel said: “The reason I was arrested was a will to silence the protest against a criminally charged man. The right to protest is a fundamental right in a democratic country. No one can prevent me and my friends from protesting so long as we’ve done nothing wrong.”