Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men, overwhelmingly adherents of the radical Eda Haredit stream, violently confronted police for several hours yesterday near the Intel plant in Jerusalem. This is the second successive Saturday that ultra-Orthodox have demonstrated in protest of the plant operating on Shabbat.
During the week, mainstream ultra-Orthodox rabbis reached a compromise agreement with Intel, but the leader of the Eda, Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss, ordered his acolytes onto the streets again.
Unlike last week, police were prepared in large forces to try and prevent the protests from turning violent. Police presence near the plant included mounted police, a helicopter, Border Police troops and special patrol unit. They were led by the Jerusalem police chief, Maj. Gen. Aharon Franco. Intel's private security guards were also better prepared, using water hoses to drive protesters away from the gate.
The hundreds of protesters who marched from ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to the Har Hotzvim industrial zone in which the plant is located tried to break through the gates but were blocked by police. The confrontation involved pushing and shoving, and some stones were thrown. Some of the protesters spat at the officers and verbally assaulted them, calling them "Nazis" and calling in Yiddish for desecrators of the Sabbath to be put to death.
The police, by contrast, showed considerable restraint, blocking the path rather than actively dispersing the demonstration. Despite the considerable violence, police tried to avoid arrests so as not to escalate the clashes even further. Nevertheless, three protesters were arrested and two others detained. After some two hours of clashes, police began pushing the crowd back toward an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Ultra-orthodox sources said yesterday that Rabbi Weiss himself was pushed at one stage by the police. The incident outraged the demonstrators, who demanded police to show more respect for the 87-year-old rabbi.
The protests led to the closure of Golda Meir Boulevard in north Jerusalem, an important traffic artery. Jerusalem city councillor Elisha Peleg (Likud), said yesterday that this was "an ultra-Orthodox terrorist attack," and urged police to keep major Jerusalem thoroughfares open.
Meanwhile, secular organizations began some initial counter-protests. Intel had asked counter-protesters not to attend the ultra-Orthodox demonstrations, saying it may escalate the situation. However, the "Forum of Organizations for a Free Jerusalem" staged some preemptive actions in the area of the plant, writing graffiti on sidewalks with slogans including "We'll talk about Shabbat when you work the rest of the week." A more radical group of secular activists sprayed graffiti against Rabbi Weiss, including "Rabbi Weiss is a son of a whore," and dropping pornographic materials in the area of the protests.
The verbal and physical violence by the protesters represents a transgression of limitations set last summer by Rabbi Weiss, after officers warned him they may not be able to control their men if they continue to be subjected to spits and taunts. Over the last three month, the Edah rabbis warned not to physically assault police and particularly not to spit at them. None of these precautions appeared to be heeded yesterday.
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