Thousands march to Knesset in last-ditch effort to stop passage of 1st overhaul bill

Thousands of protesters joined a mass march to the Knesset in Jerusalem on Saturday in a last-ditch effort as the coalition prepares to pass into law a bill that would reduce judicial oversight over its decisions.

Although there were no official numbers for the number of participants, video footage showed a significantly larger procession than the day before, which already included more than 10,000 marchers.

The protesters had stopped their self-styled pilgrimage on Friday evening Welcome Shabbat With a Community MealBecause they regrouped before the last leg of their journey.

After spending the night at Shoresh, outside Jerusalem, the marchers ate breakfast donated by supporters, before resuming their climb to the capital.

Thousands of people joined the group from across the country for the final leg of the march, much of it uphill and in intense heat.

The convoy of people stretched for several kilometers and hundreds of people gathered on the bridges spanning the route to cheer on the marchers.

Opponents of the judicial overhaul march towards the Knesset in Jerusalem along Route 1, July 22, 2023 (Aviv Hasidov)

Traffic slowed in the area as the public walked on the shoulder of Route 1.

Although the protesters were not intentionally blocking traffic, their sheer numbers meant that there was inevitable disruption.

Hundreds of cars were parked along the roads in the area, abandoned by the participants in the procession.

More convoys of vehicles were expected to arrive in the area on Saturday afternoon, with thousands of people expected to join the march for the final section through Jerusalem.

Guy Shahar, a participant in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, told the Yenet news site that he joined the march because he “fears for the fate of the country.”

“There is no doubt that this is a historic moment, the number of people here is amazing. Each one has come from a different place with concern for the fate of the country,” he said.

The march has become the protest movement’s signature event since it began in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening and will end outside the Knesset.

Organizers then plan to set up tents and stay indefinitely at Gan Sacher, as the coalition prepares to pass legislation next week that would ban courts from overturning government and ministerial decisions based on their “reasonableness”.

It is expected to be the first part of the coalition’s judicial overhaul package to become law.

As well as larger protests outside the Knesset on Saturday evening, opponents of the law are expected to rally outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, as well as on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street.

Anti-overhaul protesters march on Route 1 near Abu Ghosh, as part of protests against the government’s judicial overhaul on July 22, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands are expected to rally in more than 150 locations across the country, in the 29th week of protests against a controversial package of legislation proposed by Netanyahu’s hardline government.

Organizers said it was noteworthy that the size of the demonstration was growing in the coastal city of Netanya, a major stronghold of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Nationwide protests are taking place under the title “We will not let” [Netanyahu] Destroy our house.”

March participants are trekking towards the capital during one of the hottest weeks of the year.

While many were planning to complete the entire 60-kilometre (37-mile) march, others only joined groups for parts of the walk.

Anti-overhaul activists marching towards Jerusalem on the morning of July 21, 2023. (Jonathan Sholl/Flash90)

Opposition MPs including Yesh Atid’s Meirav Cohen and Orna Barbiwai have joined the march.

Many of the marchers carried Israeli flags, a hallmark of the protest movement, forming a giant blue-and-white ribbon on the shoulder of the highway.

By Friday, the march was joined by about 10,000 protesters by the time the participants reached the Shoresh Interchange, about 9 miles (15 kilometers) east of Jerusalem, where they stayed for the evening.

March Route 1 was closed shortly after 7 p.m. on Friday, around the beginning of Shabbat, to set up camp.

After reaching Shores, protesters of all ages held a communal event Kabbalah Shabbat Service with picnic dinner.

Supporters from across the country provided food to the marchers, and so much arrived that march organizers asked them to stop bringing more.

Anti-overhaul activists marching towards Jerusalem gather in Shoresh outside the capital on Friday evening, July 21, 2023 (Aviv Hasidov)

Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai met with anti-overhaul protest leaders during one of his breaks on Thursday afternoon and issued a statement saying law enforcement would continue to allow demonstrations, which have plagued Israel since January when the coalition unveiled its law to change the judiciary.

Shabtai’s statement also warned the protesters not to block the highway.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the police, issued a statement saying he had instructed Shabtai to open Route 1 to traffic “immediately”, even though the highway had never been blocked.

Police have responded with water cannons, mounted police and other anti-riot means against protesters blocking the main Ayalon highway through Tel Aviv, and Ben Gvir has consistently called for law enforcement to take a hardline approach to the demonstrations.

Earlier on Friday, 1,142 Israeli Air Force reservists, including more than 400 pilots, issued a letter announcing that they would suspend their voluntary reserve duty in protest of the judicial change.

Hundreds of reserve soldiers from other branches of the military have also said they will no longer volunteer.

Anti-overhaul protesters have expressed hope that Gallant will issue a call to halt the government initiative.

The defense minister was instrumental in stalling the controversial overhaul in late March. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed Gallant after he called for a halt to the legislation in a public address, which led to mass protests, a nationwide labor strike, and the closure of Ben Gurion Airport. Netanyahu temporarily suspended the law, agreed to talks with the opposition under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog, which has since broken down, and eventually reinstated Gallant.

Thousands of Israelis march along a highway toward Jerusalem to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plans to reform the judicial system, near Abu Gosh, Israel, on July 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohd Zweigenberg)

channel 12 informed of On Friday evening Gallant was attempting to delay Monday’s vote amid unprecedented protests within the military.

Responding to the report, Galant said in a statement that he was taking measures “to reach a broad consensus and ensure the security of the State of Israel, while isolating the IDF from political discussion.”

The bill would bar the Supreme Court and lower courts from using the standard of reasonableness to review decisions taken by the government and cabinet ministers.

Proponents say the doctrine’s use of the moratorium is needed to prevent judicial interference in government decisions, arguing that it amounts to substituting the judgment of elected officials with unelected judges.

However, opponents argue that the law is too broad and would undermine the court’s ability to review decisions that harm civil rights and hinder the ability to protect the independence of senior civil servants holding sensitive positions such as attorney general, police commissioner and others.

The measure will likely be the first part of the government’s plan to rewire the judiciary to pass it into law, and protests have intensified as it moves toward its final votes before it is passed into law.