J'lem Mayor Halts Services to ultra-Orthodox Neighborhoods After Another Day of Violence

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat yesterday froze all municipal services to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and Mea Shearim following violent protests following the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox mother. The woman, whom security cameras at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital caught disconnecting her son from a feeding tube, is suspected of starving at least one more of her five children.

The services were halted for fear for the safety of municipal employees, after a Border Policeman was hurt in a scuffle by a rock hurled by a protester. Tuesday's protests over the woman's arrest resumed yesterday afternoon. Some 20 rioters were arrested as the protests spread from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh. Hundreds of people participated in yesterday's riots, blocking traffic on Bar-Ilan street by sitting in the road. Rioters blocked Strauss, Yeshayahu, Zfania and Bar-Ilan streets, set garbage containers on fire and threw stones at passing vehicles. Rioters also smashed a police car's windshield and tore the door off a Prison Service van. In the evening some 200 rioters started a procession from Shomrei Emunim street, throwing stones at passing vehicles. Dozens of protesters in Beit Shemesh set garbage containers on fire.

Barkat suspended services to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods until the riots cease, amid an exchange of accusations between the municipality and police. Municipal officials yesterday blasted the police for arresting the mother at the entrance to the local welfare office, thus turning social workers into "police collaborators" in the Haredi public's eyes. In doing so, the police destroyed the delicate relations that had been built for years between the city and Haredi community, the officials said.

Jerusalem police sources slammed the municipal officials, saying "the social workers are trying to cover up their blunder in failing to apprehend the abusive mother, whom they should have arrested and taken the child from long ago."

The 30-year-old woman, who belongs to one of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects in Jerusalem, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly starving her three-year-old son over the course of two years. Police said yesterday that doctors who treated the woman and her children in recent years testified that she has abused at least one more of her five children. Doctors who made statements to the police were threatened by Haredi persons, the police said.

"We have security camera footage showing how the mother abused her child," a detective told the Jerusalem District Court yesterday.

The judge shortened the mother's remand by two days, following her attorney's appeal, and she will be released tomorrow. Her release is expected to calm the riots. However, police fear she may be smuggled out of Jerusalem to avoid interrogation. The woman, who is believed to be suffering from a condition called Munchausen by proxy syndrome, reserved the right to remain silent yesterday and did not cooperate with the police. The syndrome is a psychiatric disorder that drives a person to feign sickness or deliberately harm someone else, usually to gain attention from doctors and family.

Doctors said yesterday that the boy's condition has consistently improved since the arrest of his mother, which came after hidden cameras recorded the woman disconnecting her son's feeding tube in his hospital room.

"It's all slander," Yosef Kreuser, one of the protesters who knows the suspect and her husband, told Haaretz yesterday. "It stems from envy. When secular parents have a sick child they visit it in hospital occasionally. The medical staff isn't used to such devotion - the woman didn't move from the child for seven months. I spoke to the father and he says nobody sacrifices for the children more than his wife."

Public notices posted in Haredi neighborhoods yesterday called on women to stop using the city's welfare offices and well-baby clinics. The notices accused nurses and welfare clerks of "feigning interest in the mother's and baby's welfare," while scheming to vilify "innocent Haredi mothers" and take their children away.