1,000 ultra-Orthodox Try to Block Downtown J'lem Road, Clash With Police

Protesters converge on the intersection of Strauss and Hanevi'im streets, marking 100th Sabbath since Jerusalem opened Carta parking lot on Saturdays.

Jerusalem police on Saturday prevented attempts by an estimated 1,000 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators to block Hanevi'im Street, a major thoroughfare through the city center.

On Saturday, as on each of the preceding four Saturdays, protesters from the Eda Haredit - most of them from the extremist Toldot Aharon Hasidic sect - converged on the intersection of Strauss and Hanevi'im streets. The demonstrations there began as offshoots of the Haredi protest against the opening of the Carta parking lot during Shabbat. Saturday's protesters marked the 100th Sabbath since the city opened the parking lot, located some distance from the demonstration site near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City.

protest, Jerusalem road block - 16.7.11
Tomer Appelbaum

The head of Toldot Aharon, Grand Rabbi David Kohn, led the demonstrators in commemoration of the event.

About 1,000 demonstrators - significantly more than in recent weeks - participated in yesterday's protest. They shouted "Shabbes," called the police officers "Nazis" and "Hitler" and tried to block the streets. Officers from the Israel Police special patrol unit battled to keep the protesters on the sidewalks.

After about an hour, during which demonstrators threw rocks and other objects at the officers, the police, under the command of Jerusalem District Commander Niso Shaham, decided to disperse the demonstration using force. The officers, with reinforcements from a mounted police unit, pushed the demonstrators toward the ultra-Orthodox Geula neighborhood. Small groups of demonstrators continued to battle with officers. Two protesters were arrested on suspicion of assaulting police officers.

In recent weeks, the demonstrators have succeeded in disrupting traffic on Hanevi'im Street and damaging the vehicles of drivers who attempted to use the street on Shabbat. Earlier this week, Shaham asked the leaders of secular organizations that had requested permission to hold counter-demonstrations to refrain from such action, explaining that it would only further inflame the Eda Haredit protesters. Shaham promised the police would take firm action in order to keep the road open.

Particularly large numbers of police officers were called in yesterday, and a crowd control vehicle equipped with water cannons was brought to the demonstration site, but it was not used.