(photo credit: Associated Press)
Police remained on alert Sunday night in Jerusalem and around Ashkelon after the excavation of ancient graves adjacent to Barzilai Medical Center passed with no major violent incidents or public disruptions.
Dozens of haredi protesters were arrested nationwide, and disruptions were felt around the capital’s Kikar Shabbat, which was blocked by dozens of haredim with burning trash bins both in the morning and evening.
Hundreds of police surrounded Barzilai last night in a bid to keep the protesters away from the site.
Barzilai officials were “overjoyed” that the removal of Byzantine and Roman pagan graves had been completed. Dispute over the excavation had delayed by more than two years construction on a new reinforced emergency department and other facilities at the hospital.
They were relieved that only a few dozen haredi demonstrators tried to interfere with the move, which was fiercely opposed by the extreme haredi organization Atra Kadisha and by Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman, who claimed the bones were Jewish and could not be moved.
The demonstrators recited Psalms outside the construction area, which in about two years will have an underground facility to protect patients, staffers and visitors from rockets and missiles shot by terrorists in Gaza.
Medical center spokeswoman Lea Maloul said the bones were transferred to the Religious Services Ministry for handling.
“The truth has come to light. They were not Jewish graves,” she said, noting that 45 archeologists and diggers were on the site.
On Sunday evening some 60 haredim blocked Kikar Shabbat in the capital’s Mea She’arim neighborhood with burning trash bins. Police dispersed the protesters.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of haredi men set trash bins on fire and blocked roads in and around the major intersection, and assaulted municipality workers at the scene. There was also damage to city property and vehicles.
Overturned trash bins and other debris could be seen scattered in piles on a number of roads throughout the large haredi enclave, as security forces on the scene restored order.
In response to the violence, the Jerusalem Municipality announced Sunday night that it was ceasing to provide services to some of the haredi neighborhoods in the city.
Forty haredi protesters were arrested by police in Ashkelon during demonstrations against work to relocate the Barzilai graves. Twenty-five demonstrators who were bused in from Jerusalem to Ashkelon were arrested earlier after trying to approach the site of the graves.
A number of the suspects were brought before the Kiryat Gat Magistrate's Court for a remand hearing. Several had their custody extended.
During the early afternoon, a further 15 haredi protesters were arrested on suspicion of setting fire to a field in Ashkelon.
Coast Guard forces also turned back two boats of haredim who had boarded in Ashdod and intended on docking in besieged Ashkelon's marine to protest.
Construction on the fortified emergency room at Barzilai was to begin in January 2008 but was delayed due to haredi opposition and a cabinet decision a few months ago to leave the bones in place and construct the emergency department in a more distant location that is now a parking lot.
But a public outcry led to Prime Minister and Health Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to reverse the decision.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the “general good of the public” was the guiding principle behind the decision to move the graves and pave the way for the construction of the emergency room at its original site.
Netanyahu said he was aware that the haredi population, whom he termed “important,” would be offended by the decision.
Like the decision to lay a gas pipeline to bring natural gas to the Haifa Bay area, a decision that has angered part of the Druse community because it will be built partly on their land, “the general welfare is also decisive here,” Netanyahu said, of the Barzilai decision.
Netanyahu said that the government tries to consult with the public
regarding projects such as these to the extent possible in the hopes of
reaching agreements, but that its ultimate commitment is to the general
“This is how we have acted, and this is how we will act,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Jaffa, 40 haredi protesters were arrested for holding an
illegal demonstration and attacking police following a protest against
archeological work to excavate another site that contains ancient
Two buses containing protesters from Jerusalem arrived at the site of
the excavation work and began disturbing the peace, police said.