One hundred thirty thousand citizens of Israel protested against far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government he leads at hundreds of locations across the country on Saturday, October 3, after the passage of anti-democratic legislation last Thursday that banned mass demonstrations as part of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
The figure would make the demonstrations collectively the largest yet held since protests gathered steam over the summer, fueled by anger against Netanyahu, who has refused to step down despite being on trial for graft and his government’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. Socially distanced rallies were held in more of 500 locations throughout the afternoon and evening, though at times orderly conduct gave way to more chaotic scenes of scuffles between protesters and police.
Police clashed with protesters in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, arresting 38. Further arrests were made elsewhere where protesters allegedly did not adhere to health regulations. Hundreds of fines were issued to demonstrators who did not follow health-related rules for socially distanced protests. Several people were injured in the clashes, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai who was left bleeding from the arm when he was struck by a police officer. Tel Aviv protesters launched marches along the city’s streets for seven hours, blocking traffic. Hundreds of protesters who marched down Allenby Street in the city were blocked by police, though many did not disperse until after 1 am. Police also arrested three protesters during a demonstration Saturday night outside the home of Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in the city of Kfar Saba, northeast of Tel Aviv. Hundreds demonstrated on Balfour Street in Jerusalem at outside the official residence of the prime minister, where protests in recent months have drawn tens of thousands. Hundreds also demonstrated in the Hadar neighborhood in Haifa.
Several incidents of violence against demonstrators were reported. An 81-year-old woman was shoved to the ground in Jerusalem. In northern Tel Aviv, a woman was assaulted, injured and taken to the city’s Ichilov Medical Center. In Pardes Hannah, a protester’s hand was broken by an attacker, while in Holon and Ramat Gan, glass bottles were hurled at demonstrators. In Ness Ziona, one man attempted to assault protesters, and in Rishon Lezion demonstrators reported that a vehicle repeatedly drove past them apparently to intimidate them.
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List) participated at a protest near the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and thanked Netanyahu “for providing more reasons to demonstrate. This protest will not be stopped, and it will expand and surge until Netanyahu leaves his post.”
The Black Flag movement accused the government of obsessing over the demonstrations rather than focusing on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are at a historic, fateful moment,” a spokesperson said. “They are silencing public criticism… but we won’t give up our freedom to make our voices heard.”