Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the streets on Thursday across Israel, protesting the latest measures limiting the right to protest during the country’s second coronavirus lockdown.
Small groups of protesters gathered near main roads and on bridges across the country, with some marching to the Knesset, with dozens already protesting at a junction nearby.
In Tel Aviv, a car sped into a group of protesters and the driver fled shortly afterwards. One woman was lightly wounded after falling to the ground. Police have since arrested a suspect in the attack, and will ask the courts that he be remanded for five days.
They said the investigation is ongoing and that an official complaint has not been filed yet. Witnesses and those involved in the incident have been called in to give their testimony.
In his own version to police, the suspect said he got caught up at the scene and "couldn't drive away because I was surrounded. They broke my windshield so I panicked and fled."
One of the women who was struck by the car, Dorit Zak, described the incident Friday morning in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster. She said “in absolute terms” that the car was standing still and that the driver suddenly stepped on the gas, as she and others crossed the junction.
Zak emphasized that she had been walking across the junction when the incident occurred, and that she had not stopped, blocked the street, or otherwise provoked the driver. In her words, “I [didn’t do] anything. I simply walked, I didn’t even have time to respond.” The car hit her in the stomach, throwing her into the road and also injured a friend of hers who was walking alongside her, Zak said.
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Additional details were provided by the suspect on Friday to the effect that after his window was broken, he began driving home, but instead drove to a coronavirus police checkpoint and told an officer there that he had been attacked and felt that he was in danger. He said that the officer told him to drive home and file a complaint with the police.
The suspect's legal counsel, Adv. Yifat Cohen, described her client as "terrified, frightened man in a storm of emotions" when she met with him at the police station. She described the incident as "an attempted lynching" by "three thugs who did not come to demonstrate, but rather to resort to brutal violence with assault tools and smashed the car window." She added that her client "fled because he felt an immediate danger to life. I do not want to think about what would have happened if he had not fled with the vehicle."
Another demonstrator was injured by a police horse as officers to clear the streets of demonstrators by putting up barriers and blocking roads. The wounded protester was taken to hospital.
When the demonstration ended, at around 1 A.M., police had detained 15 protesters altogether during clashes in spots around the city. They were released on Friday monring.
On Wednesday night, the cabinet approved a long list of new regulations, one of which restricts protesters to a distance of one kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes. This restriction is valid for one week.
Organizers called the latest measures “the most draconian” ones ever enacted against Israeli citizens, and in a statement urged “all citizens to go out and protest in the most creative way the can, until we fix this legal insanity and return to protest on Balfour Street in full force,” referring to the site of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, where mass protests have been taking place weekly for the past three months.
A coalition of youth protest organizations said: "although despair is growing and the country is crumbling before our eyes - we will continue to fight for it in the streets. While Netanyahu and his government are sowing fear and destruction, and eradicating the basic rights of the citizens of Israel through legislation that is pale in the face of the most dictatorial countries in the Middle East, we will not remain silent or stand aside."
“This is crazy,” said Micha Weiss, a resident of Jerusalem who participated in the protest. “It’s clear there’s use of legal measures to suppress the freedom of expression.” He called it “a slippery slope” and accused Netanyahu of “avoiding trial at any cost.”
Hadas Inbar, who protested in her city of Ness Ziona in central Israel, said she sees “an awakening” over the past days. “There’s dozens of us here and energies run high,” she said. The government-backed legislation “brought many people out to the streets, and they’ll stay there, that’s for sure,” Inbar added.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana criticized the police Thursday after they provided security for a protest against the government decision to ban demonstrations during lockdown.
Ohana, the minister responsible for the police, said that a protest without a police permit should not have been allowed to be held, and the police should not have provided security.