Police are turning a blind eye to ultra-orthodox efforts to block traffic on a central Jerusalem street every Saturday, with hundreds of religious men often resorting to violence in a bid to prevent cars from desecrating Shabbat, secular activists reported on Sunday.
The ultra-orthodox activists have attempted to close off the street using dumpsters, and have been known to attack private cars trying to drive down the usually bustling road.
Neviim Street, a central Jerusalem road, is one of the most important avenues of transportation 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 added, saying "they throw bottles, rocks and bags of trash. They spit and hit cars."
Ackerman related how this has happened to him, and the police did 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 and 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, clarifying that the police were successful in keeping the boulevard open.
"After the demonstration dissipated," the Jerusalem Police statement continued, "several ultra-orthodox men emerged from the Mea Shearim neighborhood [in Jerusalem] and began kicking a car that was driving through. The police arrived shortly after this, and pushed them back into their neighborhood."
The statement also said, "During the demonstration several students arrived dressed as clowns and asked if they could protest as well. The police successfully separated between the two sides."