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Police use force to disperse anti-Netanyahu protesters, 50 arrested

Police used water cannons and officers mounted on horses charged demonstrators to disperse several hundred people who blocked the Jerusalem light rail after midnight Tuesday, following a large protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence.

Several thousand people had gathered Tuesday evening calling on Netanyahu to quit over his indictment on corruption charges, as several separate social protests took place at the same time across the country.

Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene and clashed with police. As the protest ended, hundreds moved downtown, where they blocked the light rail system, chanting “shame, shame” and “Bibi, go home.”

Police then turned water canons on the demonstrators and mounted police charged up and down the light rail tracks on Jaffa Street, sending protesters scattering to the side of the streets before regrouping.

Many then marched down Keren HaYesod Street, with some pushing garbage dumpsters and chain-link fences into the streets as makeshift barricades. Several were set on fire.

Police said one officer had been lightly wounded and 50 protesters arrested.

“We will allow freedom of speech and protest, but will not allow harm to citizens, police, media and public property,” police said.

Asked why the normally peaceful protests had reached this level, demonstrator Elhanan Marks told The Times of Israel that “every morning, I read the paper and it feels like a slap in the face. It’s time for a change, but still no one’s listening.”

A Jerusalem resident who attended the demonstration and declined to be quoted by name said she was motivated by the government’s poor response to the numerous crises in the country. But she says she sees little hope for change.

“For the first time, I’m starting to think that there might be no future for me here in Israel,” she said quietly, crouching for shelter behind a low wall as torrents of water swept onto the sidewalk.

The Jerusalem demonstration was part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.

The demonstration Tuesday evening was led by anti-corruption activists who refer to Netanyahu as the “crime minister.” Many held posters, saying “You are detached. We are fed up,” or saying there is “no way” a politician under indictment can be prime minister. Demonstrators, defying orders to maintain social distancing requirements, chanted slogans and blew horns outside Netanyahu’s home.

Some placards carried by demonstrators read “Netanyahu’s corruption makes us sick” and “Netanyahu, resign.”

One protest organizer, reserve army general Amir Haskel, urged the crowd gathered on July 14, the “231st anniversary of the French revolution,” to “demand liberty, equality and fraternity.”

As the anti-Netanyahu protest swelled, a few dozen supporters of the prime minister held a counter-protest nearby.

Police closed parts of two nearby roads due to the protests, which came a day after officers clashed with demonstrators as they cleared an anti-Netanyahu protest site outside the prime minister’s residence.

Haskel, a former Air Force general whose arrest at the site last month during a rally made headlines, said in a tweet that Monday’s protest eviction was a “pogrom.”

The arrest of Haskel, along with two others, at the end of June turned him into a symbol of the protest movement that opposes Netanyahu’s continued rule.

Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

At the same time as the protest in Jerusalem, hundreds of demonstrators were gathering near Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard to mark nine years since the 2011 social protests that rocked the country.

That protest comes on the back of a mass demonstration on the weekend against the government’s handling of the financial impact of the coronavirus, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv for a rally that later turned violent, as some demonstrators clashed with police.

People of varied economic backgrounds and sectors were at the Saturday night demonstration, including owners of hard-hit small businesses; freelancers and self-employed people; members of the entertainment industry and of the restaurant and hospitality sector; as well as university students.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

In addition to the Rothschild Boulevard protest, the Israeli Scouts Movement held protests in Tel Aviv and at numerous junctions across the country, demonstrating against the government decision to cut state funds for youth movements by a third.

Source: TOI staff