Hundreds of members of the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) group known as the Jerusalem Faction blocked traffic Tuesday afternoon around the Central Bus Station to protest the arrest of a yeshiva student who refused to report to the draft office.
The demonstrators sat on the light rail track near the Chords Bridge and caused severe traffic disruptions near the city’s western entrance.
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Two demonstrators were arrested and three policemen were lightly injured.
The commander of the army’s Ground Forces Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, passed the area in his car and the demonstrators blocked the road and wouldn’t let the car pass.
He was seen holding his pistol but he did not point it at anyone. Riot police in the area cleared a path for his vehicle.
Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi’s office issued a statement saying he “unequivocally condemned the wild and unbridled behavior toward the Ground Forces commander that took place today in Jerusalem.”
“The chief of staff strongly condemns and rejects any kind of violence against those in uniform, who work day and night to defend the state’s citizens,” the statement added
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The demonstrators claimed that the student’s arrest for draft evasion was akin to forced conversion.
The police used crowd dispersal measures to disperse the demonstrators, among them water cannons and “skunk spray,” a foul-smelling liquid that is not physically harmful but has a putrid smell that sticks to protesters’ clothing.
Earlier this month the High Court of Justice ruled that the law exempting yeshiva students from army service will be annulled on February 1, 2021, in a decision that risks reviving a political crisis that has led Israel to election in 2018.
The High Court informed the state that no more extensions would be granted.
The law was initially struck down by the High Court three years ago, and so far it has accepted requests by the state to delay implementation of the ruling.