Police Lay into Anti-Netanyahu Protesters in Tel Aviv (with VIDEO)
Despite dozens of arrests, demonstrators say they will not be deterred by decree banning large gatherings during lockdown
Protesters defying Israel’s coronavirus restrictions say they were manhandled by police in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, with videos showing uniformed and plain-clothed officers suddenly shoving, tackling and kneeing demonstrators.
In total, 38 people were arrested. All but one were later released.
“We were shouting, playing the drums and trumpets. I had a megaphone. Then suddenly, I see one plainclothes officer approach,” Mano Rosen, one of the demonstrators detained at a protest downtown near the Habima national theater, told The Media Line.
“I started to back up but it was hard with all those people there. Before I knew it, 10 officers, all in civilian clothing, were violently arresting me, choking me, without explaining why or saying anything,” he said.
I started to back up but it was hard with all those people there. Before I knew it, 10 officers, all in civilian clothing, were violently arresting me, choking me, without explaining why or saying anything
As daily coronavirus infection rates in Israel surged to some of the world’s highest, the government put in place emergency measures on Thursday mandating that protesters stay within 1 kilometer of home and refrain from gathering outdoors in groups of more than 20, although it remained unclear how many separate groups of 20 could gather and in what proximity to each other.
The move curtailed the mass rallies taking place outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, where participants have been calling on Netanyahu to step down over his corruption trial and handling of the pandemic. As a result, dozens – and in some cases, hundreds – of demonstrators emerged in squares, intersections and plazas throughout Israel.
Rosen, who has now been arrested at three protests, described the scene at the police station.
“There were too many people [there]. There was chaos and disorder, and they couldn’t get anything under control,” he said.
“They told me,” he continued, “that if I wanted to be released, I had to agree to five days of house arrest and 15 days of not protesting. I refused. We hung out there in the station all night, and by morning they released us without any demands.”
We hung out there in the station all night, and by morning they released us without any demands
Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen said in a statement issued to the media that his officers were just doing their job.
“It is the duty of the police in a democratic country to enforce a law, even when [the law] is not supported by the entire public,” Cohen said. “We will not close our eyes to clear violations of the law during protests or at any other time.”
We will not close our eyes to clear violations of the law during protests or at any other time
Ophir, who protested elsewhere in Tel Aviv and asked that his last name not be used, insisted that the police “just came looking for trouble.”
“No one was provoking them. We were all wearing masks. They were violent for no reason,” he told The Media Line.
Video footage from one of the demonstrations shows officers punching, shoving, elbowing and kneeing protesters as well as journalists and people who had already been arrested.
Reporters at the various protests sites say the violence began when police were apparently given orders to change tactics. A number of prominent columnists have speculated that the orders originated with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist who oversees the police.
Other footage and photos show assaults by people alleged to be Netanyahu supporters. Police have promised to investigate.
Ophir said the clampdown would not deter him and his fellow protesters.
“It doesn’t scare us; it only motivates us,” he stated, adding: “[Netanyahu] didn’t want us near his house. Well, now he’s going to get us everywhere.”
It doesn’t scare us; it only motivates us
Click below to hear what some Israelis have to say about the protests.