Over 7,000 people gathered at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest a controversial agreement reached over the past few months between the government and large energy companies over natural gas production. Protesters marched from Habima Square down Kaplan Street toward government offices. Demonstrations were also held in Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva.
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Protesters carried signs with pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outgoing Economy Minister Arye Dery and Yitzhak Tshuvah, the major shareholder in the Delek Group, which owns the gas reserves together with Noble Energy. Some of the signs read: “Do not steal,” “Stop the gas robbery,” and “Right or left are for breaking up the monopoly.”
A protest was also held in the Upper Galilee town of Rosh Pina, drawing 150 people. Organizers estimate that a total of 10,000 people participated in protests throughout the country. Yossi Dorfman, a leader of the protest against the gas deal, said the plan will create a “private monopoly on a natural resource that belongs to all of us.”
Some incidents of violence between demonstrators and police developed during the rally in Tel Aviv. At one point, protesters tried to break police barriers in order to block the Ayalon Highway. Eight people were arrested. Three others were detained in Be'er Sheva.
Saturday’s protest was the last attempt to stop the agreement. Dery's resignation allowed his powers to be taken over by Netanyahu, who announced Thursday that he would call a meeting of the Knesset Economics Committee next week to invoke Statute 52 of the monopoly law, which allows security considerations to outflank the legislation. The security consideration cited is the Egyptian demand for Israeli gas.
Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, a former Shin Bet security service member and now an activist in the social protest group Yisrael Yekara Lanu, told the demonstrators: “Netanyahu lied to the public and the Knesset with the baseless claim that the Egyptians need this gas.” Ben-Yitzhak said that “the lie blew up in a week” when Egypt’s own natural gas reserves became public knowledge, “a fact that had been known all along to anyone who made a simple Google search.”
Ben-Yitzhak also said the National Security Council report, which was written to justify bypassing the monopoly law, was also untrue as was that of the Foreign Ministry, and that these two bodies have been asked to revamp “the distorted reports on which the government based its decision” ahead of the Knesset Economics Committee meeting.
"The natural gas found in the Mediterranean Sea can change our lives," said Mor Gilboa, head of the campus environmental organization Green Course said. "Thousands have taken to the streets this evening throughout the country, because the State of Israel, without a drop of shame or embarrassment, is stealing from its citizens the largest economic resource ever found here.”