Barkat determined to keep parking lot open on Shabbat

Eda Haredit vows to continue its protests against the decision.

haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat intends to keep the city hall parking lot open on Shabbat despite violent haredi protests against the move, he said Sunday. The mayor's decision sets the stage for a showdown with those elements in the haredi community that organized the demonstration in the capital this weekend, which could cause the first major rift in his wall-to-wall city council coalition, which includes the two major haredi parties. "The parking lots must stay open on Shabbat since they provide a real solution to a real problem without desecrating Shabbat," Barkat said in a statement released by his office. The parking garage is being operated by a non-Jew and no fees are being collected. Barkat condemned the violence, which included the throwing of stones and other objects at policemen, as "unnecessary" given that the city decision to open the Kikar Safra parking lot over Shabbat was made in agreement with the haredi parties. But a spokesman for the Eda Haredit, which organized the Shabbat protest, said Sunday that the haredi city councilors who had authorized the deal should do "soul-searching" and vowed to widen the protests until the decision is changed. The haredi group believes that, whatever precautions taken to avoid violating halacha, opening area parking lots will lead to an increase in vehicular traffic around the Old City and destroy the Shabbat atmosphere. "We hope and pray that the mayor will regain his composure and feel our pain," said Shmuel Popenheim. He added that the group plans to widen its protests "nationwide and abroad, on the weekends and during the week," until a new accord is reached. Popenheim said talks with both the police and the municipality were "ongoing," but said a high-profile Friday meeting with Barkat on the issue was "most disappointing" since the mayor refused to budge. "Haredi politicians that authorized this should do some soul-searching, since it is not a matter for them to deal with but for rabbis that deal with religious law," he said. The success of the talks between the sides this week was uncertain at best. "If someone wants to talk to us, our door is open," Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said Sunday. Jerusalem Police on Sunday released on bail six haredim, including three minors, suspected of violent behavior during the protest. The six suspects, among them two Americans and an Australian residing in Israel, were ordered to post NIS 20,000 bond and a NIS 3,000 court deposit, and were banned from coming within two kilometers of city hall for three weeks, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Police plan to press charges against all six for rioting and assaulting police officers, he said. Six police officers and a press photographer were lightly hurt in the rioting in which protesters hurled stones, garbage and diapers at police. Thousands of haredim took part in the protest, which could prove to be the first of weekly demonstrations if the two sides do not reach an agreement. The Druse city worker who operated the parking lot on Shabbat did not want to talk to the press, a city spokesman said Sunday. About 100 motorists parked their cars in the parking lot on the first Shabbat it was open, the mayor's spokesman said. The parking lot was opened to alleviate the lack of parking around the Old City, which often led weekend visitors to block roads by parking illegally. An earlier plan to open the Carta parking lot opposite the Old City walls was nixed after haredi opposition.