Four Months In, Dozens of Attacks on Israeli Protesters but Only One Indictment

As one demonstrator puts it, ‘It seems the police have picked a side in the conflict between the Israeli public and Netanyahu and his supporters’

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Pro-Netanyahu demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence, October 2020. The sign says 'Leftists – traitors.'
Pro-Netanyahu demonstrators outside the prime minister's residence, October 2020. The sign says 'Leftists – traitors.'Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Four months into the mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and only one person has been indicted for attacking protesters despite the dozens of assaults, some of them filmed.

Demonstrators believe the police are taking sides regarding the protests against Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis – against the backdrop of his ongoing corruption trial.

The police, for their part, say many of the cases “are actively being investigated.” But the only indictment so far has been against Felix Eliav, a Sderot resident suspected of attacking a demonstrator with a sharp object in a community near the Gaza border.

Haaretz has looked into a number of such incidents, the most recent taking place a few weeks ago, but police investigations are still pending.

On July 26, when a few dozen demonstrators were standing at Aluf Sadeh Junction in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, Eliran Kambisis drove by and sprayed them with a fluid or gas – window-cleaning fluid says Kambisis, pepper gas say protesters. A number of demonstrators say their eyes and lungs were scalded.

This incident was filmed and the police arrested Kambisis, who lives in city, that evening, taking testimony from both sides. The court released him to house arrest, and more than two months later the case has stalled.

“The attack on us wasn’t an unusual incident; on the contrary. But hardly an indictment has been issued against an attacker, even though some cases are very serious, and I can’t understand how no charges have been filed,” said Sharon, one of the demonstrators who was attacked at Hashalom Junction and who has filmed the incident.

“This is yet another indication that the police’s conduct is a policy and that we’re no longer a state of law,” he added, asking that only his first name be used.

The case of an attack on Tel Aviv’s Ha’arba’a Street has been waiting for the prosecution’s decision for about a month, after the police completed their investigation.

The police took statements from eight witnesses and nine suspects, but three of the five people who were injured refused to testify. One of them, who was seen bleeding on television, told Haaretz he didn’t testify because he has “no confidence in Ohana’s police” – referring to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.

“I feel the law enforcement system didn’t only abandon me as a demonstrator but is out to get me,” he said Thursday.

“On the evening of the assault on me, three undercover policemen helped the armed thugs who attacked me to escape. I identified one of them at other demonstrations later. A lot of protesters asked for help or protection from policemen and policewomen at demonstrations and were ignored.

“I hope the police chiefs will come to their senses and realize they’re here to protect us and our rights, which include the right to demonstrate. But right now it seems the police have picked a side in the conflict between the Israeli public and Netanyahu and his supporters.”

An anti-Netanyahu demonstration outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, October 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Suspected soccer hooligans

According to the police, on the night of the attack the nine suspects, who belong to the sports fan club Maccabi Fanatics, left a nearby restaurant, where they had been watching a basketball game. One was holding a tear gas container.

The police say the nine suspects did not prepare in advance to assault demonstrators, they simply came across them.

A police source said that although part of the incident was filmed by photographer Asaf Shafir and by security cameras and passersby, it was not clear who started the clash.

On July 24, attacks on protesters in Jerusalem were attributed to militant fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, known as La Familia. In one incident, 30-year-old Orian Veiga of Kibbutz Yakum was attacked.

“There were 20 of them, and I fought them as much as I could,” he said. “At some point I realized I had no chance and lay on the ground with my head between my arms while they kicked my head and legs.”

The police intervened in several attacks that evening and detained suspects. Immediately after the attack, Veiga asked to file a complaint.

“The policeman took my details and said: ‘Are you crazy, they won’t do anything with it.’ I thanked him and walked away,” Veiga said, adding that the police have not yet phoned him.

Achiya Schatz also says he has been attacked by La Familia. “One of them bashed me from the side; my phone and glasses flew off, they kicked me. I grabbed my phone and ran to the line of the Border Police or special forces who were standing there,” Schatz said.

“I told them I had been attacked and that I had it on film. One of them went back with me to find my glasses, and those guys spat and cursed at us. I pointed and said that’s the guy who attacked me, but the cop said they weren’t going to get into it.”

Schatz didn’t file a complaint and the police didn’t ask him for more details about the incident.

In the attacks so far, the protesters have mostly complained about pushing, kicking and slapping. But on July 26 a demonstrator said he was attacked by five men on his way home; one hit him with a motorbike helmet and then broke a bottle on him. One man was arrested.

That evening two other demonstrators phoned the police, saying they had been assaulted by three young people. “One asked my friend if he was for or against Bibi,” one of the two demonstrators said. “He didn’t answer, and one of them started beating him up. Then he punched me in the face and threw my glasses on the ground.”

On Saturday, leftist activist Gershon Baskin said he was assaulted by a passerby at a protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood. Baskin filed a complaint and the police appear to be acting on it; Baskin was called in for a meeting with the police Thursday.

A Black Flag protest at Yagur Junction in the north, August 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

A bottle thrown at a boy

At the end of August, Zohar Ziv and his 12-year-old son Matar of Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet in the north demonstrated on a bridge. Until the current lockdown, hundreds of protesters came to the bridge to protest every Saturday.

That Saturday a bottle was hurled at Matar from a car traveling on the bridge, injuring the boy’s arm. His father filed a police complaint but was told the case had been closed because there were no suspects.

“Unfortunately, even though they took testimony from me and Matar and at the Yokne’am police station, the police ended the process a few days later. We feel they didn’t make the effort we’d expect from the police, who are supposed to protect civilians and prevent similar cases,” Ziv said.

“The feeling is that the criminals who threw the bottle at us were rewarded; the message is that you don’t pay for violence against children. We hope they’ll be found and arrested before they attack again.”

On the same day a bottle was thrown at a demonstrator at the Kfar Tavor Junction in the north, injuring her. An Afula resident was arrested, denied the suspicions and was released to house arrest.

In mid-August, firecrackers were hurled from a car at protesters at several intersections in the Hadera region south of Haifa. The police detained one suspect, who was later released with restrictions but was rearrested on suspicion he had thrown firecrackers at demonstrators again.

Last month, demonstrators at Misgav Junction in the north complained that a car tried to run them down and almost ran over a child before speeding away. The protesters photographed the car, and the driver was detained for questioning.

In February a Netanyahu supporter struck an activist in the face with an iron rod and broke some of his teeth, but the police say they don’t know about the incident.

At Hasira Junction in Herzliya a man aimed an air gun at a protester’s face; he was arrested, questioned, brought to court and released. This case too is ongoing.

In contrast, the case of a man suspected of trying to run down demonstrators in Tel Aviv last week seems to be proceeding speedily, albeit the taking of a witness to a police station in the middle of the night and placing him in custody. In the next few days the police are expected to decide whether to file charges against the suspect, Pini Luzon.

The police said they “take a grim view of violence of any kind, whether against demonstrators or any other person. Every report or complaint received by the police is handled and looked into thoroughly to reach the truth .... Unlike what is being reported here, a considerable part of the cases that have been described and have recently taken place are actively being investigated.

“In some of them, suspects have been detained or arrested, in some the investigation has been completed and the case passed on to the prosecution for deciding whether to press charges.”

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