Extremists used Israel's judicial protests to attack Palestinians

Some members of the right wing looking for an excuse to be violent, analyst says

Israeli protesters run as police officers use water canon after clashes erupted during a demonstration against the government's judicial overhaul. Getty
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Mass protests in Israel against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial reforms stretched security forces as Palestinians were subjected to right-wing extremist attacks, experts told The National.

Palestinian citizens of Israel were beaten during pro-government demonstrations in Jerusalem on Tuesday. One attack was described by Israeli police as a “savage” assault.

“The chaos created by the internal turmoil is stretching Israeli security sources and diverting attention of Israeli civilian and security leaders,” Washington Institute senior fellow Ghaith Al Omari, who has previously held positions in the Palestinian Authority, told The National.

“This creates an opening for Palestinian and Israeli extremists who could use the instability to conduct violence in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

About 700,000 demonstrators took to the streets after Mr Netanyahu said he would sack Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for opposing the Prime Minister's plans for judicial changes. In the melee, some Palestinians were set upon.

A Palestinian taxi driver told Israeli radio station Radio Kan that he was returning home from a night shift when his car was stopped by a group of right-wing protesters. He said he could not know if what happened next was linked to those who stopped him, but he suspects the stop was planned.

"One approached and the window was open. He asked me: 'Are you an Arab? Are you an Arab?'. In panic, I called the police.

"They began to smash and hit the car. If I hadn't escaped — it's very simple, I'd be dead.

The driver, who did not wish to be named, said he managed to run off to a police station but was pursued all the way by men on bicycles and on foot.

"You always think this is faraway, that it won't happen to you ... it is very unpleasant, very scary," he said.

Since the incident he has been struggling to sleep, he said.

In some cases, members of the right wing are looking for an “excuse” to become violent, Adam Shinar, an associate professor in constitutional law at Israel's Reichman University, told The National.

“What has this Palestinian cab driver got to do with legal reforms? For some, a small group in the right wing camp, the most radical, the most extreme, they're kind of racist anyway. So for them, this is often an excuse to engage in violence and when it comes from these racist sentiments, it doesn't have to make sense.”

Tensions are usually particularly high during Ramadan especially this year as it coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Mr Netanyahu said he would delay the judicial overhaul process to next month.

But groups like the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association (Addameer) say Israel's right wing government has worsened an already difficult situation for imprisoned Palestinians.

Measures include the introduction of the death penalty for people accused of “terrorism”.

“This bill increases the likelihood that the death penalty will be implemented and is formulated to solely apply to crimes committed by Palestinians,” a report by the group released earlier this month said.

Last month, the Knesset passed a bill which enables the government to strip Palestinians of Israeli citizenship without court approval, rendering them stateless, contrary to international law.

“Even if the government stops the judicial reforms, the attacks on prisoners will continue,” Addameer general director Sahar Francis told The National.

Updated: March 29, 2023, 5:52 AM