Thousands Protest Natural Gas Plan Across Israel

Protesters are planning to visit the Knesset on Tuesday, when Netanyahu is scheduled to appear before the Economics Committee.

Protesters hold signs and chant at a demonstration against the government’s natural gas plan in Tel Aviv on December 5, 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

More than 2,000 people gathered at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest the government’s controversial agreement with energy companies for the distribution of natural gas from Israel’s offshore fields.

Leaflets distributed at the protest called the government “gas robbers,” and accused Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon of breaking his promises. (Kahlon has cited a clash of interests for his abstention from the decision-making process.)

Protesters are planning to visit the Knesset on Tuesday morning, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to appear before the Knesset Economics Committee in his role as economy minister, which he assumed when former minister Arye Dery resigned so as not to block approval of the framework agreement.

“There’s no way that Netanyahu will be at the committee and we won’t be there,” said protest leader Orly Bar-Lev. “If the gas plan is signed by mistake this week, we’ll hold rage protests throughout the country,” she added.

Protests were also set to take place in northern Israel (Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya and Zichron Yaakov) and Arad in the south. In Caesarea, protesters planned to march by torchlight to Netanyahu’s private residence.

Ilai Abramovich of the campus environmental group Green Course told the crowd in Tel Aviv, “We are angry because our elected officials do not serve us but rather big money. We demand a maximum of $3 per energy unit.

“It’s clear that keeping the gas for our children as well is in our interest. They are in a hurry to export it for profit. But the gas belongs to all of us,” he added.

The protesters presented actors playing Netanyahu, Kahlon and Dery.

The protest leaders issued a statement that “on the coldest day of the year, thousands of people have come out to protest for justice and truth, for a better future and against the government-big money connection that moves rare natural resources to a tiny band of tycoons.”

For several months, Netanyahu has been trying to negotiate a new deal with the private companies who own the drilling rights to Israel’s offshore gas fields, including the major Tamar and Leviathan sites.

The main players are the Texas-based Noble Energy and the Israeli firm Delek Group. Netanyahu has argued that the gas must be extracted from under the sea in order for Israel to reap financial gain (Leviathan is several years away from going into production), but the protesters argue that the terms are too much in favor of the private firms.

Last week, social activists and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice against the police demand that organizers of the gas protests be made criminally responsible for offenses committed by protesters.

The petition was filed following the launching of a police investigation against a number of protest organizers on suspicion of illegal assembly.

As part of the conditions for granting a permit to protest, the police have been demanding that the organizers assume responsibility for any illegal activity, disturbance of the peace or breach of the conditions of the permit at any time.