JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police and Jerusalem municipal officials scuffled with protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday as officers dismantled tents set up by the demonstrator's outside the premier's residence.
The demonstrators have staged a sit-in outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for the past month, calling on him to resign while facing corruption charges. They said police used excessive force to dismantle the sit-in while opposition politicians decried the move as a restriction of free expression.
Video footage from the scene appeared to show city officials and police officers tearing down banners and removing chairs and tents while tussling with demonstrators.
Jerusalem city hall said in a statement that the municipality had removed the protesters’ equipment for a second consecutive day because it “was placed without a permit and harms public order.”
Amir Haskel, a former Israeli air force general and one of the leaders of the protest, told Army Radio that the demonstrators were undeterred.
“There’s no chance that we’re moving from here," he said. “You can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been here 35 days."
Last month, Haskel was arrested by police for allegedly holding a protest without a permit, but was later released without charges. He denounced his detention as an attempt to stifle the protest, which has grown in numbers since his arrest. On Friday, several thousand people gathered outside Netanyahu's residence, calling for his resignation.
Separately, thousands demonstrated on Saturday in downtown Tel Aviv, protesting what is widely seen as Netanyahu’s failure to address economic woes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu faces charges of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. His trial began last month. The long-serving prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt.
After Monday's dismantling of the sit-in, opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that “Netanyahu has lost public trust, and with it the courage to stand before citizens who tell him the truth daily — that he's failed.”
The incident came a day after public opinion polls showed dismal approval of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic. A Channel 13 survey found that 75% of respondents were unsatisfied by the government’s performance, while a similar poll by public broadcaster Kan showed that 85% were dissatisfied.
Israel’s Health Ministry has confirmed over 38,000 cases of COVID-19 and 362 deaths, with the number of new infections surging in recent weeks. The pandemic has severely impacted Israel's economy, with over 20% of the country's workforce unemployed.