Israel arrests after unruly protest over soldier’s murder conviction
TEL AVIV - Israeli police made seven arrests overnight following an unruly protest against the manslaughter conviction of a soldier for shooting dead a wounded Palestinian assailant, police said on Sunday.
Those detained are accused of public order offences during a demonstration outside the Jerusalem residence of President Reuven Rivlin following a reconciliation rally in Tel Aviv.
An eighth person was arrested on charges of seeking to disrupt Saturday's rally in the commercial capital.
Another was detained on suspicion of taking part in a hate campaign against armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, who ordered the prosecution of Sergeant Elor Azaria that angered many on the Israeli right.
"During the night dozens of demonstrators arrived opposite the president's residence where they wanted to carry out an illegal protest in support of the soldier Elor Azaria," a police statement said.
"Some of them blocked the road and refused to obey police instructions. Seven demonstrators were arrested for breach of public order."
Since a military court found Azaria guilty on Wednesday, there has been a wave of public protest and threats against officials involved in the prosecution of the 20-year-old French-Israeli infantryman.
After the verdict was read out, protesters scuffled with police outside military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Radio and television channels broadcast recordings of the demonstrators chanting that the chief of staff should beware unless he wanted to share the fate of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995.
"Gadi, Gadi be careful, Rabin is looking for a friend," they shouted.
Saturday's unity rally, convened after a moving Facebook appeal by reserve Captain Ziv Shilon, was held in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.
Azaria's conviction has deeply divided Israeli public opinion between those who believe he was wrongly tried and those who say the conviction was the right and proper consequence of his actions.
Right-wing politicians -- including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- have already called for Azaria to be pardoned, even though he has yet to be sentenced and his lawyers say he may appeal.
He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Public radio said about 1,500 people gathered in Rabin Square following the appeal by Shilon, who was seriously wounded in 2012 by a Palestinian roadside bomb as he patrolled Israel's border with Gaza.
- Unity rally marred -
Shilon said he was appalled at the wave of hate unleashed in the wake of the verdict against Azaria, caught on video delivering a shot to the head of a Palestinian attacker as he lay wounded on the ground.
But even the attempt at reconciliation was marred by a small but vocal group of Azaria supporters who screamed abuse at other participants they perceived as being insufficiently sympathetic.
"You are the cancer of the country," they were heard shouting in radio reports. "You have no right to exist."
Earlier in the week, police arrested two people in connection with online death threats against a military judge and other officials.
Another two, both minors, were arrested on suspicion of daubing graffiti, including calls to kill Arabs and police officers.
Israel's military has assigned bodyguards to all three judges who convicted Azaria.
"I feel that our people are divided, hurting, hating, disappointed, desperate," Shilon posted on Thursday.
"I -- who did not cry at moments that were so hard that I would not wish them on anyone -- today I just cried," he said.
"I cried for the hands I left behind in Gaza and I asked myself, perhaps for the first time, was it worth fighting for a people that hates itself?"