J'lem police deny social protesters Zion Square

Social Movement activists, ACRI plan to petition High Court over issue of using central Jerusalem square for protests.

Social justice protest 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Social justice protest 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Jerusalem police will no longer allow demonstrations in downtown Zion Square – the central home of protests in the capital for decades – because they would interrupt the service of the light rail, police said on Wednesday.
The issue first came to light this week, when the Social Justice Movement, an organization made up of activists from last summer’s tent protests, attempted to get a permit from police to hold a 5,000-person demonstration this Saturday night in Zion Square.
The social justice protest organizers wanted to follow the same route of many of last year’s Saturday night protests, from Menorah Park (“Horse Park”), down Ben- Yehuda Street to Zion Square. Police refused to grant them a permit for Zion Square, though the sides eventually agreed on Agron Street as an alternative site for Saturday night’s protest.
The protest will pass through Zion Square but will not be allowed to congregate and the train will continue to run on schedule. King George Street will be closed to traffic when the march begins but will be open once the protesters move towards Ben-Yehuda Street.
The Jerusalem Light Rail only opened to the public in August of last year, so it was not affected by last summer’s protests.
On Saturday night, simultaneous social justice marches will take place in Tel Aviv and Haifa as the official kick-off for what organizers hope will be another summer of massive protests.
The leader of the Jerusalem branch of the social movement, Rona Oravano, hailed the decision to hold Saturday’s protest on Agron Street as a victory for the activists. Originally, police had threatened to grant a permit only if the activists promised not to hold any more protests during the summer.
“They said that [last year] we closed all of the routes every week and they don’t want us to do that again,” Oravano said.
The social movement activists and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel plan to petition the High Court of Justice over the issue of using Zion Square for protests.
“This sweeping policy does not abide by the constitutional status of the right to demonstrate and clearly contradicts court rulings, which require maintaining a balance between the right to protest and temporary and specific disturbances to traffic,” said ACRI attorney Sharona Eliahu-Chai in a statement released by her office.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben- Ruby said that demonstrations cannot stop the light rail because so much of the city’s public transportation system is now dependent on the train.
“The moment you have a big demonstration in Zion Square, it stops all of the movement from the west to east and people won’t have the ability to use public transportation,” said Ben- Ruby. He said smaller demonstrations will still be able to happen in Zion Square but there will no longer be an opportunity for thousands to gather as in previous years.