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Israel: Far-right protesters attack Palestinians during pro-government rallies

Supporters of judicial overhaul target Palestinian passers-by, as Netanyahu announces pause on legislation
Israeli security forces use water canons to disperse protesters during demonstrations in Tel Aviv on 27 March 2023 (AFP)
Israeli security forces use water canons to disperse protesters during demonstrations in Tel Aviv on 27 March 2023 (AFP)

Far-right Israeli protesters supportive of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul attacked Palestinian passers-by on Monday night, on a day of nationwide strikes and protests. 

That evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was delaying the government’s contentious remake of the country’s courts, following 12 weeks of mass protests.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir agreed to the delay, in return for allowing the creation of a "national guard" loyal to his ministry.

More than 80,000 anti-government protesters had converged outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem in the afternoon, where right-wing, pro-government demonstrators also later gathered. 

Ben Gvir and far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were among several government figures who encouraged right-wing groups to take to the streets. 

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Footage shared on Monday night from Jerusalem showed a Palestinian taxi driver surrounded by right-wing protesters, who threw objects, punches and kicks at his vehicle. 

The driver then attempted to flee towards a gas station, but was "attacked by the rioters who chased him and caused heavy damage to his car", according to a police statement. 

A video of protesters running towards the gas station was widely shared online. Police said they were investigating the incident, and at least three suspects had been arrested. 

Elsewhere in Jerusalem, right-wing demonstrators blocked another Palestinian driver’s path and chanted "May your village burn", while waving Israeli and Likud flags. 

In another clip shared online, a Palestinian youth is seen being frantically ushered away after being caught up among right-wing protesters. 

'Netanyahu is a threat to Israel' 

Opposition lawmakers condemned the scenes, blaming them on Ben-Gvir and his supporters.

"Ben Gvir’s militias from La Familia are going wild right now on the streets of Jerusalem. Looking for Arabs to beat up," the leader of the Labor Party Merav Michaeli said on Twitter.

"This is the man that Netanyahu promised to set up for him his own militia with regular salaries at the expense of the state. Netanyahu is a threat to Israel."

La Familia, a fan group of the Beitar Jerusalem football team with a history of violence, took part in Monday’s counter demonstrations. 

Earlier on Monday afternoon, during anti-government protests against the judicial reforms, a man waving a Palestinian flag was attacked and had his flag snatched away. 

Haaretz reported that right-wing activists were using WhatsApp and other social media platforms to call on supporters to take up arms and use vehicles to attack anti-government protesters.

In one group, known as 'The Unapologetic Right', a member called on protesters to bring "gasoline, explosives, tractors, guns and knives".

Labour party parliamentarian Gilad Kariv referred to attacks on Palestinians on Monday night as "attempted lynchings". 

"This is an organised infrastructure and not spontaneous gatherings. The police and Shin Bet don’t have a proper response, in intelligence or operations, to this violent infrastructure. It’s time for them to wake up," he tweeted. 

Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian analyst based in the city of Haifa in Israel, told Middle East Eye that Netanyahu's promise to Ben-Gvir of a "national guard" was a bigger win for the far-right than the judicial reforms themselves.

He said the national guard, which Ben-Gvir claims is needed to increase security around Israel and would be loyal to his national security ministry, would have as its "core ideology" hostility to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Israel's main labour union also called off a nationwide strike, with Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labour federation, praising Netanyahu for delaying the overhaul and offering to help craft a compromise reform. 

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The pause comes as many warned Israel was on the brink of civil conflict. Earlier on Monday, Israel’s army chief of staff warned that a "storm is brewing at home", as thousands of military reservists threatened not to serve in the military if the reform passes. 

Flights were also grounded at Ben Gurion International Airport for a few hours amid the nationwide strike, while Israeli embassies across the world stopped work in solidarity with demonstrators.

The White House said it welcomed the delay to move forward with the overhaul and urged the Israeli parties to leave space for compromise.

The proposed judicial reforms would give parliament both the power to override Supreme Court decisions through a simple majority vote, and de facto control over court nominees, a role currently held by a mixed panel of politicians, judges and bar association members.

It would also limit the court's ability to overturn unconstitutional legislation.

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