Haredi protests turn more violent

Arrests and injuries in J'lem increase; demonstrator lies down under car, gets dragged dozens of meters.

Carta parking lot 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Carta parking lot 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
During what police called "noticeably intensified" protests over the operation of a parking lot near Jerusalem's Old City on Shabbat, hundreds of haredi men threw stones and clashed with police on both Friday night and Saturday, in what has become a weekly confrontation. Sixteen men were arrested and six police officers were lightly wounded in the disturbances, which were still going on at press time. Three of the officers, all of them lightly hurt, were evacuated to hospitals. A female passerby was also lightly injured when protesters threw rocks and shards of glass at her car. She was evacuated to Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem. At the Carta parking lot opposite the Jaffa Gate, which has become the focus of the unrest, hundreds of protesters who descended on the area Saturday afternoon tried to block cars from entering the indoor garage. Police officers managed to keep the road open to traffic. Meanwhile, officers in the nearby Mea She'arim neighborhood held back another 200 protesters at the intersection of Shivtei Yisrael and Hanevi'im streets, as they attempted to march towards the lot. The disturbances began on Friday night, as protesters conducted prayers near the parking lot to protest against its continued operation on Shabbat. During that protest, a haredi protester in his 20s was moderately injured after throwing himself under the wheels of a car that had been idling at a stoplight, police said. When a Magen David Adom ambulance arrived to evacuate the injured man, protesters briefly tried to prevent the vehicle from leaving, after learning that the man was being taken to Hadassah Hospital, police said. The hospital is viewed with contempt by some in the haredi community after a haredi woman whose son was being treated there was accused last month by hospital staff of systematically starving him. Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said it was not clear whether the driver knew the man had crawled underneath his car when it was stopped at the light. After the light turned green, the protester was dragged several dozen meters beneath the car before the vehicle stopped, Ben-Ruby said. The driver fled the scene and police set up roadblocks to try to apprehend him, he said. Police on Saturday night had not yet found the driver. Footage of the incident, which was aired on Channel 2, was assisting them in their investigation. On Saturday afternoon, a group of secular protesters joined the fray, arriving at the parking lot with Israeli flags and chanting slogans against their haredi counterparts. Others criticized Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch's efforts to compromise with haredi leaders over the parking lot impasse, and slammed police for being too lenient when it came to cracking down on the unrest. Police said that this weekend's violence had been noticeably worse than on previous occasions. "This was certainly a step up in terms of intensity, participation and violence," Ben-Ruby told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. "But I'm happy that our forces were nonetheless able to handle the situation and keep roads open." Members of the Eda Haredit organization had said on Friday that they intended to intensify their protests, Army Radio reported, and Ben-Ruby speculated that a number of factors were behind the protests' renewed vigor - including the large Ramadan prayers which had taken place Friday on the Temple Mount. "[The haredi protesters] feel that because their protests haven't been working until now, because the lot is still open despite their weekly efforts, they need to get stronger," Ben-Ruby said. "But also, because this weekend coincided with the Ramadan prayers [which saw a massive police deployment throughout the capital], they might have thought that they could make us buckle, or that we would have asked the mayor to close down the lot because we were overwhelmed. "But I'm proud to say that was not the case, and the police handled all of the incidents very well. I'm sorry that that the haredi leaders believe that we are somehow going to back down," he said. Last week, six people were arrested after hundreds of haredim threw rocks and chanted slogans in Saturday evening demonstrations against the operation of the lot. The municipality allowed the parking garage to open on Shabbat earlier this summer to reduce illegal parking by visitors to the Old City and its environs. Earlier this summer, haredi demonstrators touched off the worst riots in the city in years to protest the arrest of the woman who had been accused of starving her son. Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.