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Israel: Police said weighing ban on protest marches amid fears of further violence

Police were on Wednesday reportedly considering banning protest marches, a day after anti-government demonstrators were attacked by suspected far-right activists in Tel Aviv, saying that it was difficult to protect protesters who were on the move.

Law enforcement was seeking to prevent further violence amid a wave of protests and threats against upcoming demonstrations, and determined that mobile demonstrations provide an opening for extremists to commit violence, Channel 13 reported on Wednesday. (The police are not considering preventing demonstrations, which are explicitly permitted despite COVID-19-related bans on other public gatherings.)

“We’re experiencing a rising wave of violence, violent discourse, a lack of respect at all levels,” police representative Sigal Bar Tzvi told the network.

“When there is a demonstration that takes place and goes against police coordination, and definitely when it turns into a march, our ability to control every alley is limited. In order to protect protesters, which we want to do, we need coordination to be complete.”

The proposal was one of several under discussion, and police also planned to step up technological and intelligence measures during demonstrations to prevent violence, the report said.

Protesters have for weeks been holding regular rallies outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, as well as in Tel Aviv, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting Netanyahu’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Many of the gatherings, including Tuesday night’s, develop into marches, often with police consent.

Tuesday’s protest targeted Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he called on police to crack down on the demonstrations.

Several suspected far-right assailants attacked protesters at the Tuesday night demonstration as they marched from his home toward a nearby highway. In video from the scene, the attackers were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs and spraying them with mace.

Police were also concerned about potential violence at protests planned for Thursday and Saturday night near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem and were preparing to deploy there in large numbers, Hebrew media reported.

Police were bracing for an attempt by far-right soccer hooligans to attack anti-Netanyahu protesters during a demonstration on Thursday evening outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

The reported police preparations come after La Familia, a group of ultra-nationalist supporters of Jerusalem’s Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, called for its members to gather Thursday evening at the First Station, an entertainment center about a kilometer from the Prime Minister’s Residence.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, La Familia said, “haters and destroyers of Israel are continuing… to harm every Jewish concept that exists.”

“Lookout leftist rags, the rules of the game have now changed,” it warned. “We’re not prepared to remain indifferent and sit quietly.”

Channel 12 reported, however, that Jerusalem police are less fearful of violence by La Familia, a group they are familiar with, than they are of potential attackers who are unknown to law enforcement.

They were also concerned for the possibility of violence at the Saturday protest and interim police chief Motti Cohen ordered police to concentrate on securing the demonstration and act more aggressively to put an end to the growing violence, the report said.

Among other measures, police would place more undercover officers amid the protesters, use more technology to monitor certain activists, and mobilize more officers to oppose violence against the protesters, the report said.

A senior police official said in a closed conversation that “Israel was in a state of social chaos,” the network reported.

Following Tuesday night’s protest, five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs, organizers said. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.

Police said on Wednesday they arrested four people for involvement in the violence.

Demonstrators said they were attacked by an organized group, and accused police of not responding to their pleas for help.

Protest organizers said in a statement that the violence was not “a spontaneous event, but a planned ambush aimed at killing protesters. There is no other way to explain an attack with batons, smashed bottles and knives.”

Header: Protesters and police at an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Source: TOI