Tens of thousands of protesters against the government's judicial reforms arrived at the Knesset in Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon ahead of a vote on the reform set to take place on Monday after marching through extreme heat, some for a number of days. The march began on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, and the number of marchers swelled throughout the weekend.
The protesters marched on Highway 1 during some of the segments, causing congestion and leading to police deployment. During most of the march on Saturday, the marchers occupied one lane on the highway, and two other lanes remained open.
The Israel Police put the estimated number of marchers at between 35,000-40,000. Drone footage showed the marchers extending for almost one kilometer.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid joined the marchers during the final ascent to the entrance to Jerusalem.
The march ended outside of the Knesset at dusk on Saturday. The protesters are scheduled to camp out in tents in the nearby Sacher Park and continue to demonstrate throughout Jerusalem ahead of the vote on the pending reasonableness standard bill on Monday afternoon. protesters said they will be calling the tent camp the "Fortress of Democracy."
Former chief justices and current business leaders attended the rally outside of the Knesset at the end of the march. Protest groups made up of hi-tech workers, lawyers, academics, doctors, and others announced that they will join the protests in Jerusalem on Sunday.
"We will not give up and we will not cave to the government's attempts to discourage the protests. Until Netanyahu stops this overhaul, we will be here. We invite all those who participated in the march to Jerusalem to join us," the Student Protest Movement said in a statement as volunteers began building tents at Sacher Park.
Community efforts on the road to Jerusalem
Along the highway during the march, vehicles parked on the side were turned into impromptu hydration and snack stations for those marching through the extreme heatwave. Sporting colorful signs that read "democracy", the stands were ways that community members could support each other.
Water, lemonade, cakes and cookies, and the like were made available to those on the march, Hebrew media reported. In the last five days, businesses and private individuals came to provide their contributions as well.
At the entrance to Jerusalem, dozens of ultra-orthodox (haredi) people observed the march from the sidewalks. Some offered the marchers water.
protesters told Hebrew media outlet Walla! that though the weather conditions are tough, they were a small payoff.
"It's hot for us, but it's nothing compared to the hell that will be here if we don't go," Ruthi Tovi Tzur told Walla! Saturday morning.
In addition to the protest in Jerusalem on Saturday night, demonstrations against the judicial reforms will be held in approximately 150 other locations across the country, chiefly among them on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv. Protests are occurring in Haifa, Ramat Hasharon, Nes Ziyona, and elsewhere as well.
Labor unions warn they will take action if agreement not reached
Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Arnon Bar-David and Dubi Amitai, chairman of the Presidium of the Israeli Business Sector, held an emergency meeting on Saturday night, stating that they had provided an outline to Netanyahu and the heads of the opposition. The two stressed that if an agreement was not reached by 4 p.m. on Sunday, they would hold an additional meeting and reach decisions on future steps. Bar David and Amitai met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week in order to seek ways to reach a compromise on the reasonableness standard bill.
Thousands of pro-reform protests will also hold a rally on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening. A number of ministers and coalition Knesset members published video statements calling on supporters to attend the rally.
The slew of pro and anti-reform protests come as growing numbers of IDF reservists continue to announce that they will cease volunteering for reserve duty if the reasonableness standard bill passes on Monday. More than 1,000 Air Force reservists announced in a letter on Friday that they would stop their voluntary reserve duty, and representatives of thousands of other soldiers did the same in a press conference on Saturday night.
The "reasonableness standard bill" is an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, that would block Israel's courts from applying what is known as the "reasonableness standard" to decisions made by elected officials. The standard is a common law doctrine that allows for judicial review against government administrative decisions that are deemed beyond the scope of what a responsible and reasonable authority would undertake.
The bill's current wording bars use of the standard for decisions made by the prime minister, the cabinet as a whole, or any specific minister. It also bars its use against a minister's decision not to use his or her authority, and on ministers' appointments of government workers.
Proponents of the law argue that it is a highly subjective tool for judicial activism that allows the court to subvert government policy with its own views. Critics argue that the tool is essential to counter corruption and to ensure the protection of individuals from arbitrary and capricious government decisions.
"The Israeli government has only two options in the next two days. It has to choose: destroy the country, or not destroy it. Destroy the IDF, the economy, relations with the Americans - or not do it. They can continue and the people of Israel will be torn apart. Or stop the legislation, return to talks, and the State of Israel will take advantage." Lapid said from the protest rally in Modi'in.
"Netanyahu has to choose what he prefers," the opposition leader added. "The Israel Defense Forces, or the reasonableness [bill]."
During the course of the protests in Jerusalem, protesters blocked the entrance to the city. Police on the scene informed the demonstrators of the illegality of the act and began preparing to evacuate them by force.