Tel Aviv, Israel
Protesters blocked the road to one of the main terminals of Israel’s central international airport on Thursday, intensifying a nationwide movement against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to weaken the country’s judicial system.
A CNN team at Ben Gurion Airport saw people walking towards Terminal 3 with suitcases because of the blocked road, as scenes emerged of what is being called a “Day of Disruption.”
Israeli television also showed a separate protest in the city of Tel Aviv that appeared to number in the thousands, with demonstrators waving Israeli flags.
Protesters on foot blocked the Ayalon highway, one of Tel Aviv’s main roads, with some resisting police efforts to clear the highway, a CNN team at the scene saw.
Demonstrators chanted “democracy,” “shame” and “where were you in Huwara?” at police, a reference to a West Bank Palestinian village that was the target of a violent riot by Jewish settlers nearly two weeks ago.
The demonstration brought traffic to a standstill on the highway, CNN saw, before police on horseback succeeded in pushing protesters off the highway, clearing it. Demonstrators dispersed off the highway but remain in the area.
Some protesters handed out roses to police, or placed them on police cars, TV pictures showed. As in previous protests, many of the demonstrators carried Israeli flags, while a few Pride flags were also in evidence.
CNN saw protesters trying to block a truck mounted with a water cannon aimed at them.
Opponents of government plans to give Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, the power to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority have been protesting every Saturday night across Israel for the past nine weeks. The largest protests, in Tel Aviv, have regularly drawn more than 100,000 demonstrators, in a country with a population of just over nine million.
The package of legislation would also give the government the authority to nominate judges, which currently rests with a committee composed of judges, legal experts and politicians. It would remove power and independence from government ministries’ legal advisers, and take away the power of the courts to invalidate government appointments.
Supporters of the plan to overhaul the judiciary say the changes are necessary to rein in a Supreme Court that has become too powerful and is not democratically accountable.
The protest at Ben Gurion Airport came hours before Netanyahu flew to Rome to meet Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
It also took place the day US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel for meetings with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Austin was originally due to come to Israel on Wednesday but delayed his arrival by a day at the request of Israeli officials concerned about the protests, the Pentagon said Wednesday. The location of his meeting was also changed because of the protests, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryde said.
Austin will bring up Israeli violence in the West Bank during his short stay in Israel as part of a broader Middle East trip, a senior US defense official told reporters traveling with the secretary before his arrival in Israel.
He is “going to share his deep and profound concern about activities that contribute to a cycle of violence on the West Bank,” the official said in a background briefing. “By spending so much time focusing on violence in the West Bank, it detracts from our ability to focus on what the strategic threat is right now, and that is Iran, dangerous nuclear advances and continuing regional and global aggression.”
Undercover Israeli Border Police operatives killed three suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank Thursday morning, just hours before Austin landed, the Border Police announced. The Israeli security forces came under fire from a vehicle on an operation to arrest two suspected Palestinian Islamic Jihad military operatives, returned fire, and killed all three people in the vehicle, the police statement said.
The widespread demonstrations across Israel on Thursday are unconnected to Austin’s visit.