Jerusalem was again brought to a halt by Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) radicals protesting against the incarceration of Haredi draft dodgers, with at least 36 demonstrators being arrested by the police for blocking roads and junctions in the capital on Sunday.
The Committee for Saving the Torah World, the operational arm of the militant Jerusalem Faction, called the demonstration to protest the relatively severe sentence imposed upon some of the evaders, who have received up to 90 days in military prison for failing to complete the bureaucratic process required to obtain their exemption for IDF service.
The protesters succeeded in blocking traffic at the central junction of Jaffa and Sarei Yisrael streets in Jerusalem, and also blocked the light rail.
Haredi protests near the Chords Bridge in Jerusalem (Credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
They then moved on to the beginning of Route 1 at the Givat Shaul Interchange, the primary entry into and exit out of Jerusalem where they also blocked all traffic for over an hour.
The police deployed water cannons firing skunk water at the protesters to try and disperse them, but with minimal success.
The ongoing series of riots are essentially a self-perpetuating cycle, since many of the protesters are themselves illegal draft dodgers.
Once they are arrested by the police, they are found to have failed to report to the IDF when instructed, and subsequently handed over to the military police for processing, as the law requires.
These draft dodgers are then sent to military prison, giving the Jerusalem Faction further cause to riot and protest.
According to the committee, eight of those arrested on Sunday have been transferred to the military police for having failed to report to the IDF when called to do so.
This brings the number of such young men in military prison up to 27.
The committee claimed that three protesters were lightly injured in the riots, one of whom was sent to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment, and that four bystanders were lightly hurt by water cannon fire.
“The Haredi community will continue to protest at all times and in all places, against the trend of drafting yeshiva students, until the status quo is restored exempting yeshiva students from IDF service without condition and without enlistment targets,” the committee said in a statement.
The claim by the Jerusalem Faction that yeshiva students are being coercively drafted and that there are enlistment targets which are currently operative is, however, incorrect.
Every yeshiva student who applies for a military service exemption is able to obtain it, and the legal obligation to abide by enlistment targets enacted by the last government was postponed until 2020 by the current government.
The riots are largely seen as part of an internal struggle within the Haredi community, being waged by the Jerusalem Faction whose leaders are dissatisfied with having been ousted from the mechanisms of power in the Haredi world after the death of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in 2012.