Driver rams protesters on Ayalon highway as protests spread across country

Protests broke out across the country after Tel Aviv district commander Ami Eshed announced he was resigning from the police.

 Anti-judicial reform protesters block the Ayalon highway. July 5, 2023 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Anti-judicial reform protesters block the Ayalon highway. July 5, 2023

A man driving a grey BMW on the Ayalon highway drove through a group of protesters on Wednesday evening as spontaneous demonstrations erupted across the country after Tel Aviv police district commander Ami Eshed announced his resignation, according to police.  

The driver was promptly apprehended and no injuries were reported at the scene. 

Car drives into the crowd of protesters on Ayalon highway south on July 5, 2023 (Michel Braunstein).

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets on Wednesday evening following Eshed's announcement that he would step down from his position due to what he called a series of politically-targeted moves against him. 

In Tel Aviv, close to a thousand blocked Ayalon Highway and Kaplan Street, according to police estimates. The protesters also lit fires. Police confirmed that it was using water canons among its riot dispersal methods. At least two protesters were arrested amid the demonstrations.

The police also said that Tel Aviv's Kaplan St. was blocked between Leonardo Da Vinci St. and Menachem Begin St. in both directions. 

Israeli media reported that members of Israel's Border Police and police officers from neighboring districts were sent to the Ayalon highway to assist local police in controlling the crowds.

 Police arrest a protester in Tel Aviv. July 5, 2023 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Police arrest a protester in Tel Aviv. July 5, 2023 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Skirmishes were reported between police and protesters. Police stated that demonstrators started fires along the Ayalon highway, and officers used water cannons (which were in place for crowd dispersal) to put out the flames. 

A number of opposition MKs joined the protests in Tel Aviv, including Labor Party head Meirav Michaeli who was filmed scuffling with police officers at the scene.

Protests spread across the country

In Jerusalem, protests broke out on Gaza Street and by the President's Residence and Paris Square was blocked by protesters. Two protesters were arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, after one broke through a barrier and another attempted to disrupt the arrest of the first one.

Additionally, on Highway 1 near Jerusalem, protesters attempted to block the road but were moved by police. Protesters additionally blocked the Shilat junction near Modi'in on Wednesday night.

In northern Israel, Highway 6 was blocked by protesters who light fires in the middle of the road.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich responded to the violence on the Ayalon highway on Wednesday evening on Twitter, saying: 

"The responsibility for the chaos in the Ayalon lies with the law enforcement system and the police who lost control in the face of the anarchists who block the Ayalon again and again and again. Nothing can justify the selective enforcement that is manifest in the large use of [police] force at Right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, settler or Ethiopian demonstrations."

Protest leaders from the "Kaplan Force" protest group said in a statement that "tonight is another reminder to the government that the people of Israel are not interested in a dictatorship...The State of Israel will remain a democracy despite the fantasies of Bibi and Ben-Gvir." The group also drew explicit connections between the judicial reform laws being passed in Knesset and the treatment of the police commander, saying that neither will "pass."