A high-level ministry delegation is slated to visit the 18th section of Road 6 today. The chief of police, Transportation Ministry officials, Trans-Israel Highway Company executives and Haredi community representatives will meet at the Menashe Forest area to examine a 250-square-meter area where the Atra Kadisha, a Haredi group, claims the remains of Jewish graves are to be found. The inter-ministerial committee wants to find a solution that will enable paving the highway in a way that complies with halakha as interpreted by Atra Kadisha leaders. In the past, the organization has managed to impose its views over separating the dead from various highway and construction projects, and presumably a formula will be found this time that complies with its demands.
Only last week, when the Haredi campaign on Road 6 turned into violent clashes with police in Jerusalem, the police command announced that this time it would not surrender and ignore demonstrator lawlessness. Senior police commanders in the capital justified their subordinates' tough response to the rioting of Satmar yeshiva students at Kikar Shabbat by saying the public, including the Haredim, must learn that violence does not pay. But barely 24 hours went by, and Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra ordered a halt to construction at Road 6's controversial section. On Monday, Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi called in MK Meir Porush and Atra Kadisha heads, in addition to senior Transportation Ministry officials. At the end of the meeting, an announcement was issued, stating "there is an effort being made to find a solution that would enable understanding between the sides."
Seemingly, there is nothing wrong with an initiative meant to nip an argument in the bud. Seemingly, the public security minister did his duty when he ordered the police to find a peaceful way to settle the conflict and avoid further clashes with the Haredi demonstrators. But the facade of responsibility and judgment that Ezra ascribes to his involvement conceals, unsuccessfully, an Achilles heel: He got involved only as a result of violent pressure imposed by the Haredi demonstrators.
In effect, the Trans-Israel Highway Company and the state's authorities are being extorted by ranks of Atra Kadisha demonstrators demanding either that the route be changed, or that some technological solution be found (there already is talk about digging a tunnel in that section of the road to allow the ancient graves to remain above the highway's traffic). One can believe that the Atra Kadisha's price to drop its opposition to the paving of the highway is reasonable, even justified, for maintaining peace in a multicultural society. And there certainly will be quite a few who will explain that respect for religious values is no less important than other constraints - economic, technological, ecological, archaeological - under which the Road 6 entrepreneurs operate. But then it is necessary to remember how responsible Green organizations were when they conducted a campaign to change, or at least improve, the route of the highway at section 18 for the sake of preserving the landscape.
The Israel Union for Environmental Defense conducted a lengthy legal and professional campaign to make improvements in the highway route, but lost at every stage of the process. It lost in the High Court of Justice, and it lost when it appealed to the national planning and construction commission. Megama Yeruka (Green Course Students for the Environment) organized a rather polite protest, in which demonstrators chained themselves to bulldozers or sat down in front of tractors involved in the highway construction, and which ended after just a few hours, when the police intervened. The demonstrations did not yield the results hoped for by the Green groups: the route of the highway was not changed, and the local solutions they proposed as ways to avoid harm to the landscape, such as tunnels, were not accepted.
The conclusion is self-evident: A week of violent demonstrations is far more effective than legal procedures and organized appeals to institutions. It's only ironic that now the proposal for a tunnel is being seriously considered at the controversial site; the people who didn't want one for ecological reasons may yet approve it for halakhic reasons.
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