Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Friday called for police to act with restraint ahead of protests on Saturday night and to the background of continued calls for investigation into alleged excessive use of force by officers at Wednesday's judicial reform demonstrations.
"Remember protesters aren't terrorists or anarchists, they are Israeli patriots, lovers of the country, and they are there [demonstrating] because they are worried and hurt," said Lapid. "Let them protest, this is a fundamental right and you knew in the past to contain the demonstrations and not harm anyone. Protect their safety and rights, prevent escalation and do everything to avoid violence."
Following Thursday's opening of an Internal Investigation Division probe against a police officer who threw a stun grenade at protesters in Tel Aviv, further complaints have been filed alleging further instances of the use of stun grenades, as well as extreme physical force and skunk spray.
"Remember protesters aren't terrorists or anarchists, they are Israeli patriots, lovers of the country, and they are there [demonstrating] because they are worried and hurt."Yair Lapid
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) alleged in a letter to police internal affairs that skunk spray -- a non-lethal anti-riot weapon consisting of an overpoweringly foul-smelling liquid typically shot vehicle-based from water cannons -- was used against protesters at Karkur junction.
"Children, babies in strollers, and the elderly were present," said ACRI. "The skunk [spray] was used, according to the evidence, without any prior warning."
ACRI alleged that the anti-riot measure was used illegally, as police procedures hold that the spray can only be employed against violent riots.
In another incident in Tel Aviv, a protester allegedly had his necked kneeled upon by an officer despite him presenting no risk. ACRI said that this maneuver was illegal following a February 2022 directive.
"I felt like I couldn't breathe," the protester allegedly told ACRI. "It's hard for me to remember because it was traumatic."
A total of 11 people were reportedly injured by improper use of stun grenades in Tel Aviv, according to ACRI, which also occurred throughout the country.
In Tel Aviv, ACRI said that a second officer was recorded throwing grenades in close proximity to commissioner Meir Suisa, who had a probe opened into him by Police Internal Investigations on Thursday.
Earlier on Thursday, The Movement for Moral Purity had submitted a complaint to the internal investigation unit about Suisa.
According to the procedure, the use of such munitions needs to take into consideration the environment and terrain, and there must be a distance of at least one meter between detonations and suspects, said the movement.
A protester may have been hit and hurt by the stun grenade, said the movement. A source present at the demonstration had previously told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that a man had been struck on the side of his head, and his ear was severely injured.
The movement said that because police officers are faced with such difficult and complex jobs that many meet faithfully, it was all the more necessary to address those that deviated from the boundaries of law enforcement.
Ben-Gvir supports the officer
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir came out in support of the officer and suggested that if the internal investigations unit was acting out of political motivations it needed to alter course.
“I give full support to the officer who drove away anarchist rioters last night using a stun grenade,” said Ben-Gvir. “My policy is to give full support to police officers who, unlike Machash forces, don’t sit in an air-conditioned room and are forced to deal with the anarchists.”
While some coalition members and pro-reform activists have referred to the actions of protesters – closing roads and blockading Sara Netanyahu in a hair salon – as anarchy, demonstration organizers have castigated the police for their heavy-handed approach.
Security forces were also criticized for their use of Border Police officers who were in their mandatory service.
Former senior security officers including former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo said in a Thursday letter that while it is within the state’s right to call up reserves of those in their mandatory service, “it is not acceptable that it be used for a confrontation with a civilian population in connection with a civil protest.”
The protests across Israel came as several pieces of judicial reform legislation moved forward. A vote was held in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for a bill introducing override clauses and restricting judicial review to an extended bench of justices of which 80% are in agreement.
The Special Committee for Amendments to Basic Law: The Government held its first session on Wednesday, discussing the so-called “Deri Law 2.” The bill would see the conditions for eligibility for ministerial posts be altered, ostensibly to allow Shas Chairman Arye Deri to resume his posts after the High Court of Justice ruled that he had to be removed due to his criminal past.
Shira Silkoff contributed to this report.