Demonstrators who clashed with police near the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night and who spoke with Haaretz told of a sharp escalation in the level of police violence.
“I’ve been at these demonstrations for three months. Until now everything was fine. I don’t know what happened last night,” said one of those arrested. “It was clear that the police wanted to stop the march at any price,” said one demonstrator. “I saw that they simply came all heated up,” said another demonstrator. “I’ve been arrested in the past, but this time it was different, as if they came looking to beat people.”
Around 10,000 people demonstrated on Saturday night on Balfour Street. The police dispersed the demonstration with force and arrested 30 protesters, 26 of whom have since been released. In a video from the demonstration, one can see the Zion Precinct’s operations officer, Chief Supt. Niso Guetta, lunging at demonstrator with his fists during an arrest. Guetta was questioned yesterday by the Justice Ministry’s department for the investigation of police officers and claimed that he used force against two people after they attacked him and resisted arrest. According to protesters who witnessed the incident, Guetta was responsible for the violence.
Zion Precinct commander Brig. Gen. Ofer Shomer, Guetta’s commander, promised to look into the incident, but also accused the demonstrators of “incitement against the police.” This is a reversal of roles in the inflammatory spirit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even if there were protesters who provoked the police, it was clear that the level of police tolerance was low and that they used greater force than usual.
It could be that the police got a tailwind from a decision by the High Court of Justice to accept the police proposal for gradually bringing down the noise level of the demonstrations (no bicycle horns or drums after 9:30 P.M., and no megaphones after 11); it could be that the police failure to stop the march from the Chords Bridge to Balfour Street early in the evening lowered their tolerance level, and it could be that last week’s pictures of former Shin Bet security service chief Carmi Gillon in handcuffs, which gave the mistaken impression that police had handcuffed him, increased the frustration level even more.
But none of this grants legitimacy to the level of aggression evident on Saturday night. Nor can it be justified by the fact that the police must kowtow to Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who wants to foster tensions to serve his master, Netanyahu, or that Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yadid wants to be police commissioner.
The police must not be involved in the prime minister’s incitement campaign. Netanyahu’s political livelihood is based on dividing society and he is now interested in setting the police against those protesting against him. The police themselves, including former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, were victims of incessant, unbridled incitement by Netanyahu. The protests at Balfour Street are nonviolent protests and they should be handled as such.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.