Hundreds of Thousands Join Nationwide Protests, Declare ‘Week of Paralysis’

Amid massive protests throughout Israel on Saturday night against the far-right government’s judicial overhaul push, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called on demonstrators to halt their activities – and on his own governing coalition to stop the fascist legislation.

Hadash demonstrators among Anti-Occupation Bloc activists marching in Tel-Aviv with red and Palestinian flags, Saturday evening, March 25, 2023 (Photo: Zo Haderech)

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took part in nationwide rallies Saturday evening for the 12th straight week of mass protests. Protest organizers claimed that in total, over 630,000 people attended the rallies. Thousands of Anti-Occupation Bloc activists, among them Hadash and Communist Party of Israel members, rallied on Saturday night in 11 locations: Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Herzliya, Beer Sheva, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Carmiel, Hod Hasharon, Hagomeh Junction in the Northern Galilee and Pardes Hanna–Karkur.  

The main demonstration was held in Tel Aviv, where some 200,000 were estimated to attend the main rally held on the coastal city’s Kaplan Street. Later thousands of protesters ran onto the Ayalon Highway, blocking traffic for several hours. Police used water cannons to disperse the protesters, 32 of whom were detained as officers attempted to clear them from the road.

On Route 65 in northern Israel, police said protesters were detained for disorderly conduct, including hurling flares, as hundreds blocked the Karkur Junction. A legal aid group said nine were arrested in that demonstration In Or Akiva, near Hadera, several thousand anti-overhaul protesters and a smaller number of the legislation’s supporters faced off against each other, in a heated encounter that ended in three arrests for alleged violence. The event in Or Akiva, where Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won a whopping 47% of the votes last election, ended without injury or damage, police said. Three were arrested in Jerusalem, putting the total number of arrests across the country at 44.

Protesters declared on Saturday night a nationwide “week of paralysis” that will begin today (Sunday), after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government would pass a core tenet of the legislation in the coming days. Escalating nationwide protests have roiled the country since the government announced its plans to severely curtain the judiciary in early January. In addition to the public demonstrations, a growing number of military reservists have vowed to halt or already stopped their service over the legislation, sparking deep fears in the security establishment for the country’s future.

Protest leaders declared plans for targeted demonstrations against ministers and MKs on Sunday and Monday, and vowed mass rallies in “days of paralysis” on Wednesday and Thursday, including a giant protest at the Knesset in Jerusalem. “We’re going into the most fateful week in the history of Israel,” protest leaders said in a statement. “Facing the attempt to turn Israel into a dictatorship, millions will take to the streets,” the statement said. “Every citizen who wants to live in a democracy must come out to the streets and oppose the dictatorship at all costs.”

Protesters held a nationwide “day of paralysis” on last Thursday. Police arrested at least 92 people across the country, and deployed horses and water cannons to clear demonstrators blocking roads in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The protests have also followed ministers abroad, including rallies against Netanyahu in London on Friday. Hundreds of Israeli ex-pats gathered outside his hotel and outside 10 Downing Street when Netanyahu arrived for his meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The protesters chanted “de-mo-cra-cy” and “shame” as Netanyahu approached the British prime minister’s residence.

On Friday, 200 Israeli Air Force pilots, 100 doctors in the military reserves and dozens of personnel from the prestigious Unit 8200 intelligence branch said they will refuse service in protest, joining thousands of other military members who have already made that vow, or stopped showing up for service. The military protesters include some of the most elite service members, including senior combat pilots.