April 20, 2024

Somber Mood Set Over Israel’s Anti-Government Protest

The roads around the Parliament and the Supreme Court in Jerusalem were almost deserted on Tuesday morning after chaotic late-night scenes of protesters confronting police on horseback and armed with water cannons.

Demonstrators who had been camping out for days in a nearby park quietly packed up after the city served them with an eviction order, leaving no trace of their tent city. A small knot of people waved blue and white Israeli flags and a rainbow flag at a junction not far away, but the police would not let them go to Parliament.

One passing car said he was backing him up. But another driver shouted “But Bibi!” out the window to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some of the protesters had driven four hours to reach Jerusalem from the far north the day after the ultra-religious far-right government passed a law that would limit the powers of the High Court, the first step in a larger judicial reform plan that opponents say will undermine Israeli democracy and the rule of law.

Mostly quiet prevailed across the country on Tuesday, with many going back to work and resuming their routines. The mood among opposition supporters was glum, a moment of victory — a gut punch — after months of real challenge.

Although they were deflated, many were also determined to fight on.

“There is a shock of victory and a reassessment of the tools we can use to fight this law,” said Naama Ella Levy, 29, an agricultural worker from northern Israel.

Matan Ben-Gera, 40, from Ein Zivan, a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights near the Syrian border, was one of the few protesters still on the streets of Jerusalem.

“I’m only here because I’m a father,” he said, adding that he particularly feared for his young daughters’ future freedoms.

“We are afraid that the ministers and the government will create more and more division. I want to live in peace, first among my fellow Jews and then with our neighbors,” he said. “I’m worried.”

Many of those who have been protesting against the government for 29 straight weeks are military reservists and veterans who say they have been there for a long time.

“This is not a sprint,” said Aloni Cohen, 64, a retired technical officer in the Navy’s submarine unit. “It’s a marathon. Like a submarine moving slowly towards its target.”

Mr Cohen was working in a tent near Parliament which was the base for the protest reserves. He said on Tuesday that he and his armored corps comrades would be packing up because Parliament was about to go into summer recess.

“There is a feeling that we have lost the battle, but we have a whole campaign ahead of us,” said Gil Syrkin, 64, a former commander of an armored brigade in the reserves and a teacher who lives in the north. On Saturday, he joined the last part of a protest march into Jerusalem.

“We have a shared determination, love and destiny,” he said. “This gives us hope.”

Shortly before the tent city was dismantled, one of the protesters camping there summed up the sentiment with a handwritten sign scrawled on a piece of cardboard. “Next Steps,” it read. “1. Cry. 2. Fight.”

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