The Jerusalem District police chief, Doron Yedid, said Monday that protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night “arrived riled up for a fight with the police,” and that a high-ranking police official who was filmed attacking demonstrators would be returning to the protests.
Yedid, speaking at a Knesset Interior Committee hearing, was responding to charges of police violence against demonstrators. “They made calls to ‘show up for war’ on social media,” said Yedid. “They showed up loaded for the police, they came riled up for clashes with police,” he retorted. “I have screenshots of the calls.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of Netanayhu's Likud party also addressed the committee, reading from the High Court of Justice ruling ordering the police to strictly enforce noise limitations from 9:30 P.M. onward. Committee chairman Miki Haimovich (Kahol Lavan) asked Ohana whether he believes the police’s lack of tolerance is due to the court’s ruling. Ohana responded: “Yes. Police behavior during recent protests is due to the High Court decision.”
Also on Monday, the Justice Ministry said that the department for the investigation of police officers interrogated a police officer who was filmed attacking a protester at Saturday's demonstration. The officer, the ministry's statement said, was suspected of slapping a woman at the demonstration, and was released at the end of the investigation.
Yedid also addressed the decision to forcefully vacate the anti-Netanyahu protest camp in order to clear the way for a pro-Netanyahu rally. Haimovich told him the evacuation led to violent confrontations on Saturday night, and asked why there was a need to clear the area. Yedid responded there was a need to distance the demonstrators because the Netanyahu supporters had submitted a request for a 3,000-person demonstration and had buses would arrive. “There were fewer buses in the end,” he said. “We were preparing for a larger crowd.”
According to Yedid, the police asked the occupants of the protest camp to move over 10 meters, a request that they rejected. “There was no violence but rather use of force,” the commander said. “We didn’t arrest anyone and the use of force was minimal.”
Amir Haskel, one of the protest camp leaders, responded to Yedid’s statement, calling it inaccurate. “They asked us to cover up the signs,” he said. “It was censorship by the police. There was no place to moving the camp.” Coalition Whip Miki Zohar (Likud) then claimed that the protests are funded, and include “thousands of anarchists.”
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Haskel responded to Zohar, saying that he “turned into a man who disturbs the public order. You disturb the quiet in the streets. You’ve turned into an anarchist.” Likud MK Osnat Mark, in response, accused the protesters of only coming out to demonstrate because the clubs in Tel Aviv are closed.
The police used substantial force against the protesters who gathered outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night. Seven people were arrested on suspicion of disturbing the peace and assaulting police officers.
Yedid had not planned on attending the hearing, but decided at the eleventh hour to make an appearance. He addressed an incident during Saturday night’s protest in which Chief Supt. Niso Guetta, an officer in Jerusalem’s Zion Precinct, was filmed hitting a protester. Although the Justice Ministry is still looking into the incident, Yedid claimed that Guetta was attacked by protesters.
“Guetta is a chief superintendent who operated with full discretion,” Yedid said in response to Shas MK Moshe Arbel, who asked whether Guetta will be present at next weekend’s protest as well. “From the investigation we conducted, the circumstances are clear to us, and in any event his restraining order ends today and he will fully return to his post. He’s an officer, he has many rights and to drag his name through the mud because of this event is not right,” he said. “Guetta was attacked.”
Guetta claims that he asked to defend himself against protesters who attacked him. Two protesters were arrested on suspicion of attacking the high-ranking officer; Police requested that their detention be extended, but the court conditionally released them Sunday.
One of the protesters, Daniel Lotem, told Haaretz that Guetta “seriously choked me. After that [police officers] pinned me to the ground and claimed that I choked him, pulled me to their van, and two riot police officers pulled down the blinds and beat me while I was handcuffed. They punched me, stepped on my throat, even though I didn’t resist at any point,” he said.
Another protester who was beaten by Guetta, Avichai Green, was brought in by police for questioning on Monday, for what police said is suspicion of “criminal acts during the course of the protest.” A video from Saturday night’s protest in Jerusalem shows Green standing near Guetta, who then punches Green in the face. In the video, Guetta and other officers can be seen tackling another protester, who was arrested on suspicion of attacking the officer, and was later released from police custody.
“It’s a shame that this is the situation, but I’ll go with [the police investigation] to the end, and after that I’ll go to the department for the investigation of police officers to submit a complaint,” Green said. “Even if they check every camera, no one will find anything that I did anything wrong, so good luck to the Israel Police,” he said, adding that the investigation feels like an attempt to intimidate him.
Yedid said that the police have recently been subjected to attacks. “It’s very easy to attack us because a picture is worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t always represent the entire situation.” He stressed, “In ever protest, about 300 people remain whose whole purpose is to fight with us.”
Referring to one of the heads of the Crime Minister organization, one of the protests’ organizers, he said: “Yishai Hadas calls on the public to show up for marches that have no permit. They knowingly break the law, and he calls on the public to confront us.” Addressing claims that his decisions are influenced by political factors, Yedid said, “I pledge that I am faithful to the country’s laws, that I defend the law and that I don’t consider outside interests.”
The Black Flag protest group responded to the report that Guetta would be returning to the protests, saying “Unfortunately, Deputy Commissioner Doron Yedid is in an impossible position, in which he is under enormous pressure from the Likud party ‘to act in accordance with Likud policy,’ (as Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said Monday). The decision to bring back a violent cop into non-violent protests is a mistake. We call to distance Guetta from the demonstrations until conclusion of the investigation into his attacking protesters by the department for the investigation of police officers.”