Clashes Erupt Between ultra-Orthodox and Secular Demonstrators in Southern Israel

Ultra-Orthodox rolled burning tires at homes and police made eight arrests during the confrontation, a culmination of simmering tensions between the communities for years

Confrontation between ultra-Orthodox and secular residents of Arad.
Almog Ben Zikri

Eight people were arrested following clashes Saturday night in the Negev city of Arad as simmering tensions over the course of two years between the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community and secular residents came to a head. 

Police said three of those detained are ultra-Orthodox demonstrators suspected of rolling burning tires at a home and the other five of attacking police officers, nudity, and disturbing the peace. The clashes were sparked by a poster critical of the Hasidic Gur leader that accused the ultra-Orthodox of dirtying the city. During the clashes, secular demonstrators shouted "Arad is ours."

Violent clashes between ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the city's secular community on September 9, 2017.

With many of its longtime secular residents opposing the growing ultra-Orthodox presence, the city has been fraught with religious tensions.

Over the past year, Hasidic residents of Arad asserted themselves by posting religious signs in the windows of their homes. After a court petition was filed over the posters, ultra-Orthodox residents argued the signs were political in character and therefore legal, criticizing Arad mayor Nissan Ben-Hamo.

Secular residents posted their own signs in recent weeks, directed at the Admor (leader) of Gur, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the Hassidic faction of the United Torah Judaism party. Some read: "Shame on you, Arad is not for sale."

Litzman, who came to Arad Saturday evening, said: "The police need to come to their senses immediately and stop the incitement running rampant in Arad against the ultra-Orthodox before it's too late." He also took the leader of the Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, to task for his support of the secular side of the dispute.  

Lapid tweeted earlier that he "stands behind the Arad mayor and the residents," adding "The hooligans will not win. The police need to deal with the violence of the ultra-Orthodox extremists with a firm hand."

Four of those arrested on Saturday evening were released Sunday morning. Three remained in custody for questioning and a fourth is due to appear in court on request to extend his detention, the police said.

The police stated that they are "aware of the public need to voice protest" and are protecting them on an equal basis, whether secular or ultra-Orthodox. "At the same time, anyone violating the law and employing violence will be met by zero tolerance."