Cops gone wild: Protesters stay calm as police lose control at Balfour

Police officers remove demonstrators during a protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Police officers remove demonstrators during a protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on August 22, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
On Saturday night, some 10,000 people gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence on the corner of Balfour Street in Jerusalem to protest his continued term as Israel’s political leader.
The protesters were mostly peaceful. They were a diverse group of older and younger Israelis from across the religious and socioeconomic spectrum. It was no different than any of the other protests that have been held there every Saturday night for the last few months.

But this Saturday night the situation seemed to spiral out of control. The catalyst? The Jerusalem Police District. Early in the evening, the police refused a request from the protesters to march from the Bridge of Strings at the entrance to Jerusalem to Balfour Street. While several hundred protesters took matters into their own hands and marched – that should not be allowed – the police reacted with extreme force.
One officer, Niso Guetta, was filmed walking over to a protester and simply slamming him to the ground. Guetta then went after another protester, hitting him directly in the face. He then dragged the protester on the street. How do we know this? Because it was all caught on camera.
Guetta is a senior officer in the Jerusalem Police District. It is apparently not the first time he has used extreme violence at public gatherings and protests. The problem is that if a senior officer like Guetta behaves this way, what about younger, more junior police officers?
Thankfully, the Justice Ministry announced Sunday morning that it had launched an investigation into Guetta’s behavior. The probe should be conducted swiftly and thoroughly and its findings should be made public.
The police behavior is not new. Ever since the protests began against a few months ago, the Jerusalem Police District, under the command of Doron Yadid, has tried to stop the demonstrations. This seems to be due to a specific request from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who was recorded telling police commanders that they need to do more to prevent protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Yadid, a candidate to become the next police commissioner, knows how to find favor in the eyes of his minister as well as those of the prime minister. Aggressively combating the protests is an easy way to score political points. What Yadid and his police officers fail to understand is that the right to protest is fundamental to any democracy. It was just this past Wednesday when the High Court of Justice rejected a petition by some 60 Jerusalem residents to end or limit protests near Netanyahu’s Balfour Street residence.
The court asked the police to enforce limitations on noise levels but stressed that people have the right to protest in a democracy, and that it seemed that the police had arrived at a proper balance of protesters’ rights and residents’ rights to not be disturbed.
None of this stopped the police from reacting violently on Saturday night. Protesters who were there spoke about getting shoved and punched for no apparent reason.
“All I did was stand there and then police would come and shove me,” one protester said. “There were police in uniform as well as police undercover who were blending in among the protesters.”
The balance between the right to protest and the need for order is delicate on an easy day, and especially in a time of a pandemic, mass unemployment and political instability.
Netanyahu has spent the last few weeks focused on attacks against Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as on ways to try to modify the coalition agreement he signed just a few months ago with a promise that there would be “no tricks and no shticks.”
Unfortunately, all we have seen since this government was formed are tricks and shticks. While Netanyahu might claim that he can run the country on his own without oversight and without the need to involve his partners, what is happening just adds to the public’s frustration and the desire to continue protesting.
For the protests to stop, the public needs to feel that the government is working on its behalf. Currently, that is not the feeling and even extreme police force won’t change it.

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