Overnight protest in Jerusalem resulted in the arrest of 55 people as Israeli police deployed water cannon against demonstrators railing against the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In what have become frequent rallies against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a few thousand people gather in the ancient city calling for him to resign over corruption charges and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister, facing an ongoing corruption trial that includes a serious charge of bribery, is fighting fresh public discontent after a recent surge in the number of COVID-19 infections.
Demonstrators have rallied near Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street in recent weeks.
On Thursday night, the last day of the working week in Israel, mostly young people in masks and bandanas gathered at a nearby intersection for a predominantly peaceful protest, including a small outdoor orchestra performance.
Several hours later, there was a standoff, with police attempting to disperse the protesters, some of whom stood their ground. Later, authorities drove large white lorries into the area and turned water cannon on the crowds. Protesters complained they were pinned down even when they attempted to leave.
Officers arrested 55 people for causing public disorder and disturbances, a police spokesman said. Many people were released, but 20 appeared in court on Friday morning.
Anti-Netanyahu rallies have been held for months, mostly focused on his trial, which began in May. The prime minister is alleged to have accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds in luxury gifts from billionaire friends and intervened in media legislation in exchange for favourable news coverage.
Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli leader to go on trial, has denied any wrongdoing, alleging he is the victim of a politically motivated witch-hunt. Smaller pro-Netanyahu gatherings have also been held in Jerusalem.
However, the rallies against him have grown in size and frequency after a second surge in coronavirus cases hit the country this summer. The government has been accused of mishandling its economic response.
Last week, the cabinet reimposed some lockdown measures, putting in place stringent weekend shutdowns and shuttering gyms and indoor dining at restaurants.
Unemployment has risen above 20%, and aid packages have been slow to roll out. Netanyahu has said he intended to give cash handouts to all Israelis, but the proposal was swiftly criticised as impractical. One prominent Israeli columnist criticised the plan as the equivalent of “handing out bribes to the masses”.
On Wednesday, Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a law granting the government extra powers to declare a state of emergency, further angering the protesters.
Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported almost 58,000 coronavirus cases and 442 deaths, with recent daily infection figures rising close to 2,000. (Source: The Guardian)