Hundreds of vehicles carrying demonstrators protesting against the closure of the Knesset made their way to Jerusalem on Thursday, March 19, and ran into police efforts to block and break up the convoy. Most of protesters later demonstrated outside the parliament and scuffled with police, leading to nine arrests.
Police stopped the convoy near Latrun about 25 kilometers from Jerusalem, telling the drivers they were not permitted to go any further. In a statement police said, the cars were driving slowly in “an unauthorized illegal protest” and that as a result there was a disruption to traffic between the Ben Shemen Interchange and Latrun. Video shared on social media showed police preventing the cars from driving to the capital, with an officer telling one driver that those were his orders from the district commander.
Protest organizers said the convoy complied with Health Ministry directives aimed at maintaining social distancing in order to stop the spread of the virus, as drivers were instructed to remain inside their cars. Later, outside the Knesset, some protesters demonstrated on foot and confronted police.
Hadash leaders excoriated police for trying to stifle the protests, accusing the force of engaging in undemocratic actions in service of a far right and racist unelected government. Protest organizers said the demonstration was “to save Israel’s democracy” under threat from government actions taken under the cover of a campaign against the spread of the coronavirus.
Protesters said they were angry at anti-democratic measures being taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak such as last week’s decision to use cyber measures to track the location of people diagnosed with the virus as well as suspected coronavirus patients, in addition to strict restrictions to achieve social distancing, such as barring thousands of people from leaving their homes. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said in a statement that the organization demands the protest be allowed to continue and all fines made to protesters be nullified. “Our democratic rights are still relevant especially now.”
Likud Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has refused to allow the Knesset to vote on setting up parliamentary oversight of the government’s far-reaching measures to tackle the virus, citing the need for unity talks with Blue & White and regulations restricting lawmakers from convening, but has been accused of using the crisis as cover to cling to power illegally.