Court postpones parking lot hearing

Deal still possible by Shabbat; Eda Haredit official: We can live with opening lot opposite Jaffa Gate.

haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
haredi protest riot 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With the clock ticking, a Jerusalem court on Wednesday postponed until Sunday a hearing over the opening of an alternate parking lot in the city on Shabbat instead of the municipality's underground garage, but left open the possibility for the two sides to reach an out-of-court agreement before this weekend. The Jerusalem District Court's decision left unanswered the critical question of whether a deal to open the Carta parking lot opposite the Jaffa Gate, which is under receivership, would be reached by Saturday in place of the municipal car park at nearby city hall, or whether it would take more time to reach an accord. The timing was especially critical since massive haredi protests were planned for Friday night and Saturday if the municipal car park is reopened this weekend. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has said he would temporarily reopen the municipal garage this weekend if an agreement could not be reached by then to open the alternate site, but voiced the hope the court would act in time on the "urgent" issue. In a sign of compromise, a senior official from the extremist anti-Zionist Eda Haredit sect which organized violent protests earlier this month said Wednesday that his organization would not have a problem with the opening of the Carta parking lot opposite Jaffa Gate. "This will be used by tourists, non-Jews, so what do we care," Yoel Kraus said. He noted that even if the garage charged money it was not as bad as a city-owned institution operating free of charge. The seemingly simple opening of the garage opposite Jaffa Gate on Shabbat requires the court's permission, since it is in the process of being liquidated by a court-appointed receiver. The receiver, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, told the court he would not object to opening the lot as long as the city promises to compensate Carta if the lot is vandalized, and charges people who use the lot a "reasonable and accepted" fee for parking there, according to court documents released Wednesday. Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said Wednesday that the conditions were being reviewed by the city. The move to open the lot opposite the Old City walls, which can accommodate 800 vehicles and 35 buses, is laced with irony since Barkat's haredi coalition partners had originally rejected an earlier municipal proposal to open that lot, which had been favored by police, and then agreed to the opening of the municipal lot which spurred the violent protests by the Eda Haredit. Two weeks ago, the mayor acceded to a request by the city's police chief to close the municipal parking lot for two Saturdays in an attempt to reach an agreement between the two sides that would forestall further violent haredi protests. The clash over the parking lot has emerged as the first major problem for Barkat in weaving through the delicate fabric of Jerusalem's diverse sectors and mixed populations since his election seven months ago. In light of the violent protests at Kikar Safra earlier this month, the Knesset Committee for Children's Rights met Wednesday to discuss the participation of children in the protests. The Criminal Code of 1977 places criminal responsibility upon parents for "taking an action that would endanger a child's well-being" - a clause that some MKs took to include participation in a possibly violent protest. A series of speakers blasted the decision to involve children in the protests, but former operations director for the Eidah Haredit and current Zaka Rescue Service Chairman Yehudah Meshi Zahav said that "bringing children to a demonstration that is against disgracing Shabbat is part of educating our children. We educate them to adhere to their values - not just when it is comfortable but also when there is a price." "I also got hit by water cannons when I was a boy during demonstrations against violating Shabbat," said Meshi-Zahav "In our community, a person whose son was arrested in a protest gets an aliya to the Torah on Shabbat." Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, chairman of the Council for the Well-Being of the Child responded that "use of children in protests is negative in any group, not just for haredim. Use of children in protests is a gimmick that works," he said. A fiery debate broke out between Kadman and Meshi-Zahav in which Kadman argued that "haredi parents are more responsible than what Meshi-Zahav described" and the Zaka head responded that "parents who don't bring their children to demonstrations didn't get good education like I did. Children are the best soldiers during protests and I have never seen a child who developed trauma from participating in one."