April 20, 2024

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Israeli judicial reform: Water cannoning outside parliament before the main vote

Israeli judicial reform: Water cannoning outside parliament before the main vote

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Witness: Water cannons and arrests in the Jerusalem protests

Police used water cannons and arrested demonstrators outside the Israeli parliament ahead of a key vote on reforms that caused uproar.

The vote comes on top of months of unrest, with some of the largest demonstrations in Israel’s history.

About 150 major companies, including banks, are on strike on Monday in protest.

The reforms aim to limit the powers of the courts, which the government says have been expanded too much. Opponents say the reforms threaten Israel as a democracy.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said the country was “in a state of national emergency” and appealed to political leaders for a compromise.

On Monday morning, protesters blocking a street outside the Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem were sprayed with water cannons and held off the road by police amid a cacophony of drums, whistles and air horns.

Local media said one protester was injured and six arrested. Other demonstrators surrounded a police car, shouting “shame” at the officers.

A protester lying in the street told the BBC he was defying “dictatorship”, adding that his grandfather was breaking codes in wartime against the Nazis in the UK’s famous Bletchley Park.

When asked how long he would stay, he said: “We will never surrender.”

Another, Reut Yifat Uziel, the daughter of a paratrooper who appeared in the famous Israeli photo of the capture of the Western Wall in the 1967 war, said she feared for the future of her children.

“Netanyahu hijacked the country, and I fear it will become a religious state,” she said.

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Reut Yifat Uziel said she feared for the future of her children

The protesters — tens of thousands of them who marched some 45 miles (70 km) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last weekend — are trying to thwart passage of the first law of the reform package. This measure is being voted on.

The so-called “reasonableness” bill would remove the Supreme Court’s power to overturn government decisions it deems to have gone too far.

He will be in parliament for a vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, after he underwent surgery on Saturday to be fitted with a pacemaker. He was discharged from the hospital on Monday morning.

The controversial reforms polarized Israel, causing one of the most serious domestic crises in the country’s history.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets every week since the beginning of the year to protest what they say is an assault on democracy. The government says the reforms are strengthening democracy, arguing that the Supreme Court has gained too much power over politics in recent decades.

Exacerbating the crisis, thousands of reservists, including Air Force pilots essential to Israel’s offensive and defensive capabilities, pledged not to volunteer for service. This unprecedented defection raised concerns about the potential impact on Israel’s military readiness.

Former heads of Israel’s security services, chief judges, and prominent legal and business figures have been vocal against the government’s reforms.

The measures were also criticized by US President Joe Biden, who in his most outspoken remarks yet called for the “divisive” bill to be delayed.

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