No end in sight for police-haredim confrontations in Jerusalem

Tense situation exacerbated by serious injury to protester trying to prevent murder victim's autopsy.

Pashkavil haredi satmar 248.88  (photo credit: )
Pashkavil haredi satmar 248.88
(photo credit: )
Ya'acov Klein, 22, lay unconscious in intensive care at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center Monday afternoon with a punctured liver after he was run over by two police trucks during what is being called by veteran haredi activists the most violent street clash in Jerusalem's history. Though his prone body was pale and frail, the result of many years spent indoors in the pursuit of Torah knowledge, Klein is being touted by the haredi community as a fearless holy warrior. Klein on Sunday night tried unsuccessfully, but with surprising heroism and selfless ardor, to prevent police from removing the body of a 50-year-old homicide victim to take it for an autopsy. The young yeshiva student's intention was pure, said his friends. Without thinking of the potential risk, Klein stubbornly positioned his slim frame in front of a reinforced police vehicle weighing several tons. His goal was to block the vehicle's exit from the scene of the stabbing murder in the heart of the haredi Mea She'arim neighborhood to the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir. For haredim, autopsies are an anathema. "We believe that the unnecessary desecration of the dead causes irreparable damage to the soul," said Yoel Barminka, the sexton of the Ohel Rachel Synagogue, which was transformed into a kind of field hospital for wounded haredim after Sunday night's clash between haredim and police. "We are not naturally violent or aggressive," added Barminka, who was an eyewitness to the clashes and to Klein's injuries. "But when it comes to desecration of the Shabbat or desecration of the dead we will do everything in our power to stop it, even if it places us in danger. It is something that we feel deep inside, deep in our hearts." Klein is the latest and the most serious casualty of an ongoing street war between the Eda Haredit and the police. Although the Eda Haredit controls only a fraction of the rapidly growing haredi population that numbers about 700,000 nationwide, they are respected by many as the most authentic, die-hard ideologues of haredi Judaism who diligently maintain their strict dress codes, insular lifestyles and uncompromising fight to protect the delicate religious status quo in Jerusalem. What began two months ago with the opening of the Carta parking lot on Shabbat - seen by Eda Haredit faithful and the wider haredi population as a blatant disruption of the status quo - was further complicated by the arrest of a haredi mother from the Toldot Aharon hassidic sect, accused by Jerusalem social workers and doctors of purposely starving her three-year-old son. This past Shabbat violence escalated to new levels with rabbis representing Satmar, Toldot Aharon, and the Breslav hassidic movements personally taking part in the anti-parking lot demonstrations. Rumors of purposeful police violence against the Shabbat demonstrators combined with the reports Sunday night that a Jew stabbed by a Palestinian in the heart of Mea She'arim was going to be autopsied sparked a spontaneous thronging of several hundreds haredim at the scene of the stabbing. Police, resolved to remove the body, used tear gas, stun grenades and, according to haredi sources, shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the crowds. "We don't know where things are going to lead from here," said Yitzhak Weiss, a spokesman for the Satmar hassidim in Israel."We are concerned that there has been a dramatic change in the police's attitude towards us. "Until now the was an unspoken understanding that while there were many ideological and religious differences between us, in the end both the police and the demonstrators were Jewish. But now we get the feeling that the police see us as a threat not different from the Arabs." Even mainstream haredi leaders, such as Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, have refrained from blaming the Eda Haredit for the violence and instead have placed the blame on Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. During in interview Monday on the Jerusalem radio station Kol B'Ramah, Porush said, "Today the haredi public understands the difference between a haredi mayor and a secular one. This whole situation was created as a result of the stupid decision to open the Carta parking lot." Weiss said that Satmar, which historically holds the leadership of the Eda Haredit, is considering staging demonstrations against what they call "police brutality" and the "breaking international law" in front of Israeli embassies in cities across the world, from Melbourne to London to Antwerp to New York.