One of the unfortunate realities of life in Israel is that oftentimes the noisiest and most problematic wheels are the ones that get greased.
Such is the case with the haredi population. Whenever an issue arises that doesn’t jibe with the ultra-Orthodox worldview, they don’t play fair and protest through usual means of opposition to try to make their voice heard. Instead, they immediately take to the streets.
Whether it’s induction notices to the IDF or construction of the light rail system that skirts haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem, one never knows when a major thoroughfare is going to be blocked for hours.
In the case of their opposition to the light rail construction in Jerusalem over the last couple of years, it hasn’t only been civil protest. There have also been acts of vandalism causing tens of thousands of shekels in damage from tearing down fences, burning garbage bins and sabotaging infrastructure that will benefit all citizens of Jerusalem, including haredim.
The latest assault on democratic norms took place on Sunday night and Monday morning, following a tragic event.
The death of a child and Israeli autopsy orders
On Saturday, paramedics were called to a home in Ramot where they found a four-year-old boy without a pulse. There were signs that he had been strangled. Magen David Adom first responders were able to resuscitate him on the way to the hospital and get his heart beating again, but he died the next day.
Police arrested the boy’s uncle, who according to family members suffers from mental illness, on suspicion of having strangled the child. The state ordered that an autopsy be conducted to establish the case against the uncle.
However, the boy’s family, represented by lawyers from the ultra-Orthodox ZAKA emergency response service, went to the High Court of Justice and argued that the autopsy was a) not necessary because there was already clear evidence that the uncle was guilty, and b) forbidden because according to Jewish law, autopsies are generally prohibited unless they can immediately help save the life of others through, for instance, organ donations.
While that due process was taking place where it should have been – in the courtroom and under the auspices of the state – there was another process of sinister mob justice rearing its ugly head.
The violent haredi protests
At various locations in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak on Sunday night and Monday morning, hundreds of haredim staged demonstrations against the proposed autopsy. According to police, the demonstrations included “blocking roads, throwing rocks, and setting garbage cans alight.”
In response to the hooliganism, police in Jerusalem attempted to disperse the protesters. Haaretz reported that a Jerusalem Police water-cannon operator shot a jet of water directly at a small child who participated in one of the Sunday protests. Footage of the incident, posted by journalist Chaim Goldberg on the Orthodox website Kikar HaShabbat, showed the boy being hurled forcefully to the pavement from the water jet’s impact.
So, not only were the protesters not waiting for the court to make its decision in an orderly fashion, their actions were actually putting other children at risk.
And it was all for naught. On Monday, the court sided with the family and barred the state from conducting an autopsy against the family’s wishes.
“After hearing the claims of both sides, we reached the conclusion that the [family’s] petition will be accepted,” the court ruled.
The boy was buried later that day and the uncle’s remand was extended. Those results to this heartbreaking affair would have been the same without the histrionics, street bullying and risk to life and limb of both the protesters and the police, had the demonstrators stayed home and prayed for the unfortunate family.
And what if the court had ruled the other way, allowing the autopsy? That’s the true test of living in a democracy – accepting a ruling that may go against your beliefs, philosophy or religion.
Those members of the haredi community – who immediately run out to the streets and create havoc as soon as an issue arises with which they don’t agree – need to be confronted.
As long as they are citizens of Israel, and receive the rights and privileges that go along with citizenship, they must accept the obligations of recognizing and accepting the decisions made by the institutions of the country.