Police boost forces to quell haredi protests ahead of religious holidays
Up to 1,000 personel called up from arund the nation.
By JOSIAH DANIEL RYAN
Jerusalem District police have mobilized more than 1,000 security personnel from around the nation and are requiring many of its officers to work double-time in recent weeks to quell haredi violence and maintain peace in the Old City, national police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
While the district hopes clashes will simmer down in coming weeks when religious holidays for Jews and Muslims will converge, the Jerusalem police division is continuing to closely monitor the situation, said Rosenfeld.
"We can confirm from the prospective of the police that there are currently a number of different issues being dealt with at the same time," said Rosenfeld.
But Rosenfeld said that while the district force is not "strained" by heightened activity and continues to be "fully prepared" to deal with conflicts, the heavy workload has affected police personnel.
"We finished the Friday prayers on the Temple Mount and our officers didn't go home, didn't rest with their families, didn't see their wives and children over the weekend, but they immediately continued their duties in order to deal with the disturbances and riots going on in other places in Jerusalem," said Rosenfeld, referring to last Friday, which was the first Friday of Ramadan.
That night hundreds from the haredi community escalated their weekly protest against the Sabbath opening of a city parking structure that lies just below the Old City's Jaffa Gate.
Retired police Cmdr. Mickey Levy, who was Jerusdalem police chief between 2000 and 2004, said that though the force has had to deal with greater challenges in the past, the violent protests staged by the haredim, in combination with the annual challenge of converging religious observance, will not be easy to control.
"From my experience, it's not going to be an easy time because the commander needs to devote his attention to the Temple Mount because of Ramadan and the Jewish holidays, along with their day-to-day police work," said Levy. "It's not easy."
To alleviate the strain on its officers the district has already taken steps to bolster its force by drafting between hundreds and more than 1,000 personnel from the pool of 29,000 policemen from around the nation, said Rosenfeld.
The district police will probably need to continue that practice for the remainder of the month in order to maintain the status quo, said Levy.
"Jerusalem police are very strong and professional and it's not an impossible problem, but the commissioner needs to help Jerusalem police and send them forces from Tel Aviv and other districts," said Levy.
Rosenfeld said a "change of atmosphere within the haredi community" has also forced police to resort to tactics they have rarely had to use with the ultra-Orthodox within at least the past five years. To disperse the riots among haredim on Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night and Tuesday morning, police employed stun grenades, pepper gas, special riot units, cavalry units and even fired warning rounds of live ammunition.
Rosenfeld said police have also arrested almost 150 members of the ultra-Orthodox community during the past 10 weeks, and that many of those arrested will be prosecuted for attacking officers and destroying public property.
While police hope activities will calm down in coming weeks, Rosenfeld said the district is still carefully monitoring the situation.
"We are assessing the situation on a weekly basis whether Wednesday, Thursday or what may occur over the weekend and in the buildup to Sabbath," said Rosenfeld.
Meanwhile, Levy said he doubts the haredi riots will stop until the municipality agrees to close the parking structure on the Sabbath, but with yeshivas going into session this week, the riots could lose intensity.
"I think the rabbis in the yeshiva will tell their students it's better for them to sit and study than go out and get arrested," said Levy. "But I don't think the riots will stop. The riots will be quieter, but they won't stop."
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