The sights and reports from the demonstrations around the country Saturday leave no room for doubt: There has been a change in the police’s approach to protest.
Numerous incidents were recorded of violence by police officers against participants in demonstrations, which took place in hundreds of locations across Israel in the wake of the new law barring people from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes to attend a protest. Videos showing the violence were shared on social media and published by media outlets.
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In Tel Aviv, protesters marched through the city for hours as police officers attempted to disperse them, and 38 were arrested. (All but one were released.) These are not common sights in Tel Aviv demonstrations. The demonstrators generally observed social-distancing guidelines and protested nonviolently against antidemocratic legislation unprecedented in a law-abiding state. The police, which for a long time now have not had a permanent national commissioner, were sent to use great force in the name of a government that has completely failed in its handling of the coronavirus crisis, and is headed by a person who has been charged with severe felonies.
In addition to the unjustified violence, police issued fines and citations without warning, at times for offenses that carry no fine and without issuing the citation. Protesters received tickets for the offense of “failure to maintain distance” despite the fact that the coronavirus regulations do not define this as an offense carrying a fine. Protesters who demonstrated outside rented apartments were fined for exceeding the 1-kilometer zone, because they did not update the address listed on their ID card.
Police were criticized not only by demonstrators, but by former senior officers. They are convinced that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is exploiting the absence of a permanent commissioner to use the police to suppress the protests. “Before today the demonstrations [in Tel Aviv] were a model of good conduct, and then Ohana said it was forbidden to secure the protests,” said a former senior police officer, who was speaking on condition of anonymity. “The commanders went in and shook things up. Suddenly they brought mounted officers into the heart of Tel Aviv,” he added.
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The main reason for the protests is the law limiting demonstrations outside the official Jerusalem residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is an antidemocratic law that only spurs more Israelis to protest against a bad government, which, in addition to its failed handling of public health and the economy, has deprived the people of the only tool that democracy gives them against bad government: the right to protest. The amendment restricting demonstrations must be repealed immediately. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must move to cancel the unlawful citations issued protesters in recent days, and the acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen must calm the officers, even if it involves a confrontation with Ohana.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.