The demonstrations in Jerusalem against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s are an amazing thing from a civil and democratic perspective. They are also terrifying. The protesters come out of there emotionally overwhelmed.
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I’ve been to four such demonstrations over the past two weeks, and I want to tell you what happens there. It’s important because most of the media outlets cover the events lazily and are sometimes biased.
A lot of Israelis are attending the demonstrations in Jerusalem, far more than they tell you, and they often also attend other demonstrations large and small in other places. I have been at demonstrations and other mass events, and I can reasonably estimate the number of people in a crowd. Last Saturday, to encourage the protesters, thousands of supporters carrying black flags and placards stood at junctions and on bridges throughout the country.
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The demonstrations have no defined leadership, steady funding or a clear plan of action. Information is decentralized and spread by word of mouth or social media. All kinds of political groups stream to the Balfour Street protests, along with many who don’t belong to any group. The demonstrators make their own signs, accessories and sometimes costumes. They make a lot of noise, shouting, singing and whistling, and with bicycle horns, pots and pans. This is an authentic civil protest and the most exciting one I’ve ever been privileged to see.
The demonstrations are very political, in sharp contrast to the “pareve,” fearful and self-defeating atmosphere during the 2011 protests. They are focused on the demand that the prime minister accused of crimes yield his seat, along with his swollen, detached and corrupt government. There are many messages in favor of democracy and against dictatorship, for integrity and against corruption. There are musical instruments, flowers and pictures of hearts. This opposition is not violent and expresses itself in gatherings and marches around the secure compound in which the Netanyahu family lives; at worst there are sit-downs and refusal to clear the roads.
The violence always, but always, starts with the police. The Jerusalem District police under the command of Maj. Gen. Doron Yedid has become King Bibi’s personal guard. This is grave and shameful. Yedid is subordinate to Amir Ohana, whom the Netanyahu family appointed as public security minister. Yedid wants to be appointed police commissioner, and knows exactly what’s expected of him.
The police under his command deploy exaggerated forces against the demonstrators. His men are armed with guns, some are on horseback. They contain the protest with restraint and without difficulty, until the moment when the commander in the field decides to mix it up. Then come the thugs from the Border Police and Yasam special forces, who got their training in the occupied territories. They push, hit, knock down and drag the protesters, make unnecessary arrests and invent stories about “assaulting a policeman.” Their Israel Police colleagues in blue, meanwhile, nastily issue fines for not wearing masks. Sometimes they bring out water cannons – armored trucks that spray exceedingly concentrated jet streams of water that hurl demonstrators into the air and bruise them severely.
But it won’t help them against the message of the younger generation. We’ve waited for them for many years, and finally their time has come. This is a dramatic change. I see it in my immediate surroundings and hear about it from everywhere. The young people go up to Jerusalem, oozing youthful rebellion, and link arms with the previous generations. They bring with them a new spirit, incredible energy and a sweeping combination of anger, determination, combativeness and faith. They have no work, they have no future, and they will not back down. It will take a little more time, but I believe that they and their parents will bring down Netanyahu.