Mass protests roil Israel overnight – ‘Bibi declared civil war’

Hundreds of thousands of protesters block Ayalon Highway, light fires, smash police blockade near Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem; Netanyahu expected to announce pause in judicial overhaul legislation.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets throughout Israel late Sunday evening and in the early hours of Sunday morning, on the heels of an announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Gallant had warned that refusals by IDF reservists opposed to the judicial overhaul are endangering the army’s operational readiness and urged for a pause to the reform legislation due to the phenomenon.

Former Israeli Air Force head Eitan Ben-Eliahu told Hebrew language media that by firing Gallant, Netanyahu “has declared civil war.” His words appeared to resonate with hundreds of thousands of protesters opposed to the reform.

At around 10 p.m., tens of thousands of demonstrators began marching in Tel Aviv towards Ayalon Highway and in Jerusalem, towards the Prime Minister’s residence on Azza Street.

The crowds quickly swelled, with Hebrew language media reporting spontaneous demonstrations in cities, towns, and junctions around the Jewish State, with the total number of protesters estimated at around 500,000.

The IDF issued an operational readiness alert several hours into the night, fearing that terror groups and enemy states could leverage the widespread chaos throughout the country to attack Israel.

Footage from Tel Aviv showed thick black smoke billowing from numerous fires set by demonstrators on Ayalon Highway, one of the country’s most important north-south freeways, as they completely blocked the thoroughfare for about 9 hours.

In social media videos from the scene, no police appear to be present at all. Eventually, they cleared the protesters at around 5 a.m. by using water cannons and horse-mounted officers.

At least three police officers were wounded in violent clashes with demonstrators.

Protesters in Jerusalem burst through a police blockade near Netanyahu’s home, sparking a major security incident which saw Shin Bet head Ronen Bar personally visit the residence to ensure it was safe for the premier and his family.

All of Israel’s universities were closed on Monday. The head of Israel’s largest labor union, the Histadrut, is expected to declare a massive strike.

President Isaac Herzog formally called for a pause to the legislation on Monday morning, along with several members of the Likud party, all of the opposition party heads, and reportedly a lawyer representing Netanyahu.

After the chaotic night of protests, Netanyahu expected to announce pause in judicial overhaul legislation sometime on Monday morning.

But Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu of the Religious Zionism party warned that pausing the overhaul set a negative precedent for the future.

“It’s giving in to political coercion,” he told Army Radio on Monday morning. “I think stopping the legislation is a really problematic thing.”