When living near Balfour, the protests become personal - opinon

That house on Smolenskin Street happens to be the official residence of the prime minister of Israel.

Black flags protestors demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Residence, Balfour Street, Jerusalem ,July 14 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Black flags protestors demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Residence, Balfour Street, Jerusalem ,July 14 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In a long career as a journalist, I have covered wars, demonstrations and rallies where security has been tight. I’ve also covered events attended by a series of visiting presidents of the United States along with the presidents and prime ministers of Israel. But never have I seen as much security as I saw outside my own home on Saturday afternoon – and never was I so frightened.
At around 3:45 p.m., there was a very loud noise outside. I opened the large window that looks out on the small street, in which there are residential buildings on only one side, all with odd numbers, the last one being number 9. That house on Smolenskin Street, happens to be the official residence of the prime minister of Israel.
Outside were hordes of people with drums, fog horns, regular horns and canned music chanting “Hamedina shelanu velo shel Netanyahu!” (The state belongs to us and not to Netanyahu).
Half of the street has long been sealed off for security reasons; a few months ago, the heavy metal doors were reinforced with a second set of metal doors.
On Saturday evenings, entrance to the open section of the street is closed off by police barricades – both metal and human.
However, on this past Saturday, demonstrators arrived en masse, earlier than usual, bearing flags, banners and flaming torches. The latter was the scary part. There were a lot of torches – and the demonstrators did not just stay in the street chanting and singing crude anti-Netanyahu lyrics to the tunes of popular songs.
Some managed to sneak into Terra Sancta, which occupies the whole length of the street across the road from the residential section. Terra Sancta is a Church property, and strictly off-limits – a factor that didn’t bother the demonstrators, several of whom scaled its high wall and stood on the ledge, while others waved flags and flares from inside the fence.
At least half the residents on the street are religiously observant, and the demonstrators disrupted their Shabbat – not only with the noise, but with the flaming torches. There was also the fear that someone would drop a torch and that the ample growth of greenery would catch fire and spread to the whole street.
Even the cats who freely roam the street were frightened, and took shelter in the tall grass.
THE DEMONSTRATORS invaded not only Terra Sancta, but also the gardens of the street’s residents. Leaning out of my window, I screamed at them in Hebrew and in English to get off my fence and out of my garden – all to no avail.
One of my ground-floor neighbors, who has several children, built a large doll’s house in the garden so the children could have somewhere to play. If the doll house caught fire, so would the carpet on which it stands, and flames would immediately spread to the low balcony and into the building.
Some of the demonstrators brought small children of preschool age with them, which was totally irresponsible. Most of the children were terrified. One little girl was so frightened that her father brought her into the garden of the building where I live. Not content with that, he approached the balcony of another neighbor, where chairs are stacked, and helped himself to a chair without asking permission.
An extraordinary number of police dressed in blue, khaki and grey uniforms arrived on the scene and began dispersing the crowd. Those who refused to move voluntarily were frog-marched or carried out by groups of three, four and five policemen, depending on the level of resistance and how heavy the person was.
Some of the people being carried out deliberately struggled as soon as they saw anyone with a camera, so that they would be photographed and the shot would give the impression of police brutality.
The police were in fact on their best behavior, and even when physically attacked by resisting demonstrators, they did not retaliate, but waited until a couple of additional police moved in to assist them in carrying the demonstrator out of the street.
Once the street itself was clear, the demonstrators congregated at what is usually the open end on the Smolenskin Street-Keren Hayesod intersection, still brandishing their torches and chanting.
Demonstrations are a democratic right, but there have to be rules about protecting the innocent. The residents of Smolenskin Street were subjected to an invasion of their privacy.
The fact that there were several arrests in such a small street speaks for itself.