Clashes as Police Clear Protest Encampment Outside Netanyahu’s Residence

Clashes as Police Clear Protest Encampment Outside Netanyahu’s Residence

Demonstrators say 6 injured as equipment confiscated in early morning raid; protest organizer describes incident as ‘pogrom’; Ya’alon: Eviction is attempt by PM to silence critics.

Police, municipal inspectors clash with protesters near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence, Jerusalem, July 13, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)
Police, municipal inspectors clash with protesters near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence, Jerusalem, July 13, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)

Police and municipal inspectors on Monday morning clashed with demonstrators as they cleared a protest site for the second time near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence.

Video footage from the scene appeared to show officers forcibly taking equipment from the encampment and confronting protesters.

“One of the inspectors pulled out a knife and cut me in the forehead when he came to cut the sign I was holding,” protester Roi Peleg told the Ynet news site.

Roi Peleg surrounded by police officers near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 13, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 13 news)

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

“This morning at 5:40 a.m. a group of about 30 policemen, police officers and city inspectors attacked the encampment at Balfour [Street] and the demonstrators, who are permitted to be there,” the organizers said in a statement to Channel 13 news.

“Without identifying themselves or presenting any [court] order they began to violently confiscate the protesters’ private property, without an explanation as to why the property was seized. Police and inspectors removed signs hung… in coordination with police yesterday, and inspectors clashed with civilians.”

The Jerusalem Municipality disputed the claims, saying in a statement: “This morning, again, the equipment that was placed without a permit and disturbed the peace was removed. Every allegation of use of violence has been examined and found to be false.”

Police said in a statement that following complaints from local residents of disturbances and the blocking of the sidewalk, officers arrived at the scene to secure municipal employees who cleared equipment from the encampment. There was no mention of any clashes in the statement.

However, opposition MK Moshe Ya’alon said that the eviction was an attempt by the premier to mute any criticism.

“By force, by violence, by intimidation, without presenting a legal order, and with a rampage that caused civilian injuries and equipment destruction, Netanyahu is trying to suppress the protest and fortify the dictatorship. It won’t help him!” he tweeted.

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

Israeli activist and former air force general Amir Haskel holds a press conference in Tel Aviv on June 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“Despite the understandings reached yesterday between MK Miki Levy and a senior Jerusalem municipality official regarding the continuation [of the protest] in Balfour, a pogrom was carried out this morning,” Haskel said.

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.

Monday’s clash came a day after the Jerusalem municipality cleared away the encampment, confiscating equipment in an early morning raid. Protesters claimed items including tents, mattresses, two gazebos and signs were taken without a court order being presented to them.

Screen capture from video of municipal workers clearing away a protest site from near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, July 12, 2020. (Twitter)

City Hall said in a statement on Sunday that the site, which grew in the aftermath of an authorized rally weeks ago, had taken on elements of a permanent “outpost,” which was proving a disturbance to local residents and hotels.

“The patience shown over a number of weeks, to our regret, led to the addition of elements of permanent presence without police or municipal approval.”

The statement listed “a kitchen, a generator, tents, fences, and elements that all created, in practice, the establishment of a permanent outpost in the middle of the street in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

“All these caused many disturbances that necessitated a proportionate eviction action of the permanent elements,” the statement said.

The municipality said that local residents and hotels in the area had complained about the protest camp, as did police, who said it was a disturbance of the peace.

Jerusalem City Council member Yossi Havilio on Monday responded to the incident to the Kan public broadcaster: “I oppose the municipality’s actions against the demonstrators near the Prime Minister’s Residence. Under the circumstances, freedom of expression outweighs public nuisance.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on trial at the District Court in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Opponents and supporters of Netanyahu have held a number of recent demonstrations outside his official residence, including dueling rallies in May on the day his corruption trial began.

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.

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