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Israel hit by huge protests as Netanyahu's judiciary overhaul moves forward

Protests erupt across Israel
Protests erupt across Israel over new Supreme Court bill 03:57

Major protests took place across Israel on Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government saw its controversial judicial overhaul plan move forward in the country's parliament. The proposed fundamental changes passed a first reading by the Israeli parliament Monday night. On Tuesday, at least 71 were arrested across the country as tens of thousands of demonstrators blockaded highways and gathered at the airport.

What has sparked the protests in Israel?

Netanyahu's far-right coalition government has accused Israel's Supreme Court of political interference. Earlier this year, the government announced a plan to curb the court's power, sparking major protests across the country. The bill that passed its first reading on Monday would remove the court's power to review and overrule decisions made by government ministers.

Critics say the government is undermining the country's independent judicial branch and its democratic system of checks and balances.

Crowds streamed onto major highways across Israel on Tuesday, with some protesters throwing flares and others lying down or burning tires to block traffic. Police used water cannons against some demonstrators near Jerusalem, and a horse knocked one protester to the ground in Tel Aviv, BBC News reported.

Demonstrators wave flags as they are sprayed with water by Israel's police during a protest against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul bill, in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2023. Israeli protesters blocked highways and converged on the Tel Aviv airport, stepping up resistance to the hard-right government's judicial overhaul package opponents say threatens democracy. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli military veterans staged a demonstration at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, while other protests were called for outside the Israeli Defense Ministry, the president's residence and the U.S. embassy.

"I am in dire worry and dread about what is going to happen to my country," Aaron, who was protesting outside the U.S. embassy, told CBS News. He said he moved to Israel 30 years ago with his family.

"We worked hard to build this country, and I feel like it's all going to go to waste because we have leadership that does not appreciate the values of liberty, democracy and equality," Aaron said. "I think that Israel is losing its freedom, and we look to our Uncle Sam — to our older brother — to help us out in times of need."

Reservists from Israel's Mossad intelligence service and its Shin Bet domestic security agency threatened to stop appearing for duty in response to the proposed judicial reforms, BBC News reported. They joined hundreds of other reservists who have made similar declarations, despite a warning from the military that it will act against anyone who fails to report up for duty, the BBC said.

Backdrop of escalating violence

Since the start of the year, a series of Israeli army raids have killed and injured scores of Palestinians in the West Bank in response to a spate of Palestinian attacks. The most recent raid on the Jenin refugee camp saw at least 13 Palestinians killed and thousands driven from their homes in a two-day operation that was the largest carried out by the Israeli military in the Palestinian territory in 20 years.

The Israeli government said the mission involved seizing weapons and destroying command posts and tunnels belonging to Palestinian militant groups. One Israeli soldier was killed during the operation targeting what Netanyahu called "the terrorist enclave."

"Jenin was to be a safe haven. It no longer is a safe haven," Netanyahu said after the Israeli operation there ended.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli military forces in the West Bank city of Jenin, on July 4, 2023. Nidal Eshtayeh/Xinhua via Getty Images

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the raid "a new attempt to destroy the camp and displace its people," BBC News reported.

At least 154 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza so far this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis have killed at least 25 people, The Associated Press reported.

Netanyahu's ultra-nationalist government

At the end of last year, Netanyahu began his sixth term as Israel's prime minister — a return to power made possible by the veteran politician forging a coalition with members of extremist, far-right and ultra-religious political parties that had long existed on the fringes of Israeli politics.

After returning to office, Netanyahu appointed some of these controversial figures to leadership roles within his government, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, a radical ultra-nationalist who has chanted "death to Arabs" in the past and was convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization. As the Minister for National Security, Ben-Gvir is now in charge of Israel's police.

Ben-Gvir has already banned the Palestinian flag from being flown in public spaces. He's seeking to amend gun laws to make it easier for Israelis to procure firearms and has pledged to accelerate settlement building in the occupied West Bank. New settlement construction undermines any eventual two-state solution that would see an independent Palestinian nation created alongside Israel. He has also vowed to loosen the rules of engagement for police and soldiers and pledged tougher treatment of Palestinian prisoners.

"I think there is enough reasons after the appointment of that Israeli politician to feel constant, to feel constant fear," Mounir Marjieh, an advocate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, told CBS News in January.

Michal Ben-Gal contributed to this report.

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