After hundreds stormed through security in anger over the coronavirus restrictions put in place to limit the number of people praying at the Western Wall on Wednesday night – the beginning of Tisha B'Av – police are preparing for violence during protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of his official residence on Thursday night.
On Wednesday night, hundreds rammed the barriers at the Western Wall Plaza after they were put there to limit the amount of worshipers due to the coronavirus restrictions. Thousands are planning to gather on Balfour Street in front of the Prime Minister's residence on Thursday evening after sunset once the Tisha B'Av fast ends.
On Thursday morning, hundreds continued to gather outside the entrance to the Western Wall, as the number of those allowed to enter the compound is restricted to 20 at a time in accordance with coronavirus regulations, KAN reported.
Earlier this week, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation announced that the Plaza is to be divided into separate sectors so that the traditional Tisha B'av prayers will take place in accordance with Health Ministry regulations. The original plan was to enable no more than a thousand worshipers, instead of the 10,000 that have been previously allowed.
However, worshipers coming to pray at the holy site the night of Tisha B'Av refused to abide by regulations and stormed past security barriers.
As the holy day of Tisha B'Av ends, police are preparing for violence to ensue as thousands are once again planning to gather in Israel's capitol city in a continuation of demonstrations that have been going on for weeks, both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday, Pro-Likud far-right activists, allegedly affiliated with the "La Familia" group, violently attacked demonstrators in Tel Aviv who had gathered that evening to protest against police brutality and against Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's attempts to prevent protests from taking place outside the Prime Minister's Jerusalem residence.
Following the violence, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz called on the police to act swiftly to apprehend the attackers. Channel 13 reported Wednesday morning that the Police plans to deploy its most elite forces – such as the Yamam counter-terrorism unit – to protect demonstrators at future protests.
Police Chief Moti Cohen has instructed forces to put in place all measures necessary to curb the violence, Channel 12 reported on Thursday morning. Technological measures will be implemented to monitor activists, and manpower will significantly be increased.
Israel Police claimed that the biggest threat during protests aren't extremist groups like La Familia, whose actions are easy to detect and prevent, but rather individuals not recognized by the police who intend to infiltrate demonstrations and use violence. Police will use measures to identify such individuals.
"Even in these complicated times, we will allow every citizen the freedom of expression and the freedom to protest, within the boundaries of the law. Most of the public is protesting legally and the police must ensure that their rights are exercised," Cohen said on Thursday morning.
"We will continue to act in accordance with the situation, and will allow demonstrations to take place throughout the country, regardless of the issue or the identity of the demonstrators," he added. "At the same time, we will not allow for violence of any kind, be it harm to demonstrators, civilians or police. We will act resolutely with the full severity of the law against violators."
The violent attacks that took place in the Tel Aviv protests garnered backlash from several political officials. Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Netanyahu was to blame for the attacks, and President Reuven Rivlin warned that the assassination of a prime minister and the killing of a demonstrator at a protest are no longer imaginary.Jerusalem Post Staff, Tobias Siegal and Daniel Nisinman contributed to this report.