Ultra-Orthodox and police - Olivier Fitoussi - July 2011
Ultra-Orthodox protestors clashing with police on Jerusalem's Neviim Street on Saturday. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Police are turning a blind eye to ultra-Orthodox efforts to block traffic on a central Jerusalem street every Saturday, secular activists charged yesterday. According to the activists, hundreds of religious men often resort to violence in a bid to prevent cars on Neviim Street from desecrating the Sabbath in the capital.

The ultra-Orthodox, the secular activists say, have tried to close off the street using trash receptacles, and have been known to attack private cars trying to drive down the usually busy road.

Neviim Street is one of the most important thoroughfares in the capital, particularly since the closure of Yaffo Road to traffic in recent years. Neviim also serves as a border between ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and the cultural and shopping center of the city.

As far as secular Jews living in Jerusalem are concerned, Neviim Street is a crucial route and closing it on Saturdays would be a significant inconvenience.

"Neviim Street is the last road you can still drive on in the center of town, and now they are trying to close it off too," said Eyal Ackerman, head of the Jerusalem Free Israel Movement that has been organizing protests against the ultra-Orthodox in the past few weeks.

"They have decided to close off all of Neviim Street, this is their new goal" Ackerman noted, adding: "They throw bottles, rocks and bags of trash. They spit and hit cars."

Ackerman said he had experienced such actions and the police had done nothing to stop it.

Although the police have successfully prevented the total closure of Neviim Street, secular drivers have complained of ultra-Orthodox zealots kicking, hitting and throwing bottles at their cars when they attempted to drive through the street.

The Jerusalem Police responded to the allegations that its forces have done little to prevent the vandalizing of cars and disruption of traffic on Saturdays, saying "several dozen ultra-orthodox men participated in Saturday's protest, calling out against the desecration of the Sabbath."

They denied allegations that police did not prevent the closing of Neviim Street.

"After the demonstration dissipated," the Jerusalem Police statement continued, "several ultra-Orthodox men emerged from the Mea Shearim neighborhood and began kicking a car that was driving through. The police arrived shortly thereafter and forced them back into their neighborhood."