Mea She'arim puts its filthiest foot forward

On reeking streets fraught with tension, the talk is of an innocent mother, victim of a scandalous blood libel.

haredi riot burning garbage 248 88 (photo credit: Alisa Ungar-Sargon)
haredi riot burning garbage 248 88
(photo credit: Alisa Ungar-Sargon)
The stench reeked for blocks. The air was rancid with the smell of smoke. The streets were littered with garbage, overturned trash bins and dumpsters, and assorted burning refuse. Both the narrow alleyways and the main thoroughfares of Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, on the third day of haredi rioting over the arrest of a woman suspected of abusing her three-year-old son, were not only filthy, they were still fraught with tension. Street signs were smashed. Traffic lights were out of service. Men in black hats gathered around neighborhood bulletin boards to read the huge white and black posters, whose headlines screamed of the "blood libel" and the "scandal." The signs told of a hospital that refused to let a mother feed her child. A group of men could be heard discussing the tape that police said they had of the mother disconnecting her son's feeding tubes at the hospital. "It's all lies," one said, before switching from Hebrew to Yiddish. A group of medical workers, who were in the area on stand-by, asked a reporter if he was a police detective. Suddenly, there was shouting. A haredi teen, surrounded by a group of 10 men, hurled several rocks at police officers down the block, and scores of haredim, black hats in hand, were scattering, dodging along the garbage-strewn streets in all directions. "That's how it all starts," one haredi passerby remarked. The still-smoldering fires, coupled with the reeking smell of garbage on a summer day, were enough to make many passersby cover their mouths as they did their pre-Shabbat shopping. After municipal workers had been repeatedly attacked in the neighborhood, city services in the area had been temporarily suspended. A municipal worker who drove by the area in his vehicle on Thursday was immediately assaulted by a mob of haredim who pounded on the windows of his car before he managed to drive away. The sealed city welfare offices in the neighborhood were a favorite target for rock-throwers. The Jerusalem Municipality said that the rioters had wreaked hundreds of thousands of shekels in damages to city property. Even the nearby Education Ministry building was not out of bounds, and was stoned by protesters in the late morning. A couple of dozen haredim who tried to venture out of Mea She'arim to Jaffa Road, a major city thoroughfare, were forcibly prevented from doing so by police. By mid-day, the low-level violence had petered out, almost as quickly as it began. "They'll be back tonight, and it'll be hot again," a passerby said. Exiting the litter-strewn streets of Mea She'arim, an old municipal sanitation sign affixed to a building looked strikingly out of place. "Throwing garbage and waste is forbidden," read the sign, featuring a flower. "Keeping Jerusalem clean."