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Protests against Israel's government took a turn when police used force


In Israel, weeks of protests took a major turn yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).


In particular, police used force for the first time against the crowds. Also, for the first time, thousands of Israeli protesters blocked major intersections throughout the day. They even besieged a salon where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife was getting her hair done. This protester opposes the Israeli government's attempts to weaken the powers of the judiciary.

DVORA COHEN: We don't want to lose our country, and we know this is the last fight. If we're going to lose now, that's it. It's done.

INSKEEP: Of course, this comes after a violent time in the occupied West Bank.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin has been speaking to protesters and joins us from Tel Aviv.

Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So these protests have been going on for weeks. What made yesterday's protests so significant?

ESTRIN: Israel hasn't seen anything like what happened yesterday. The Jewish mainstream disrupted the country all day long. I mean, we're talking about people who call themselves patriots, elite military veterans. Some protesters stopped trains, blocked roads. A lot of that was actually coordinated with the police. But then the far-right security minister told police to crack down, and officers did. They used stun grenades, water cannons. Some protesters and officers got lightly injured. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the protesters anarchists. He actually compared them to the Israeli settlers who went on a violent rampage earlier this week in the West Bank where Palestinian homes were burned, and a Palestinian man was killed.

FADEL: It seems like an unfair comparison. These protesters were not setting buildings on fire, right?


FADEL: What do the protesters want to achieve?

ESTRIN: No, they weren't setting buildings on fire. They were trying to get the government to stop advancing legislation that limits the Supreme Court's ability to strike down laws that don't guarantee basic freedoms. These protesters are fearing for Israel's future, and all of this is affecting Israel's strong economy, Leila. The shekel has depreciated this past month. And that protester we heard at the beginning, Dvora Cohen, she is a financial adviser. I met her on the street. And she says her Israeli clients are losing confidence. Let's listen.

COHEN: Twenty, 30% of my clients are calling me and asking me what to do. They ask me if they should go and open a bank account abroad, if they should withdraw their pensions because this is the situation that we are at. But every day, something new is happening - something more extreme, more shocking.

ESTRIN: You know, she's referring there also to the recent violence in the West Bank.

FADEL: So, Daniel, with these protests in Israel and the recent violence in the occupied West Bank, where do you see all this heading?

ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu says he is ready for dialogue with the opposition. There are some attempts for a compromise for some kind of watered-down version of this controversial judicial legislation. There is also some friction within Netanyahu's own governing coalition, and that makes some people here wonder if the government's days are numbered. Netanyahu is defending his comparison of the West Bank settlers who went on a rampage earlier this week and yesterday's protesters. He says he was referring to both as being lawbreakers. But, you know, Israel has made very, very few arrests out of the hundreds of Israeli settlers who went on that rampage. And Israel's far-right finance minister actually said that that Palestinian town where the rampage took place should be wiped out. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price called those comments disgusting. He said Netanyahu should disavow them. Netanyahu has not done so yet.

FADEL: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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