Jerusalem Rabbis Call on Protestors to Avoid Violence

Edah HaChareidis rabbis who have lead the Jerusalem protests are set to publish letter to community.

The Edah HaChareidis rabbis who have lead the Jerusalem protests throughout the summer will Thursday issue new guidelines for their struggle against the opening of the municipal Karta parking garage on Saturdays, Haaretz has learned. While not calling for an end to the disputes, the rabbis are calling to avoid violence and damage to property.

The letter, set to be published Thursday, is the first step taken by the Edah HaChareidis rabbinical court, or Badatz, to rein in the violence - which reached new heights earlier this week. On Saturday, two drivers attempted to run over protesters who were blocking their path near the parking lot, while on early Wednesday morning several dozen young people attacked an Arab taxi driver.

The letter, titled "Declaration and Warning," states that "in protests for the dignity of heavens, and against those seeking to overrun the fortifications of religious wisdom, one must still conduct himself by Torah law and spirit, not to carry out acts of violence like stoning, burning and spitting or to cause any damage to any property." From now on, the rabbis command, the protests will only be held inside the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods rather than by the parking garage itself. They also declared they were banning children and unmarried men from participating in the protests.

Despite the letter, disagreements with the ultra-Orthodox community continue. Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss, the leader of Edah HaChareidis, was determined Wednesday not to accept the operation of the municipal garage during the Sabbath, and new leaflets and pashkavils announcing protests on the coming Saturday could be seen in the streets. It is also unclear what, if any, influence the rabbis have over the protesters, as many of the riots are sparked by young men not affiliated with the Edah HaChareidis and not followers of its rabbis.

Rabbi Weiss himself was seen visiting ultra-Orthodox detainees who have remained in custody at the Russian Compound police station since last Saturday, amid hopes that the new measures taken by the rabbis will convince the court to release them in the coming days.

Disturbances in ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem have steadily continued in recent weeks, with burning tires, stone throwing and massive demonstrations becoming almost daily occurrences. On Monday, the protests escalated when hundreds of demonstrators threw stones at police forces that came to retrieve the body of a man murdered in a hostel in the Geula neighborhood. Police resorted to using shock grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Last night protesters set fire to several large garbage containers in Mea Shearim.

Police were emphatic that the earlier attack on the taxi driver was not an attempted lynching. "We've had scores of such events in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem over the last few weeks," sources in the Jerusalem police said. "The protesters pelted the cab with stones and broke its windows, but the same happened to many other cars that drove on the same street." They confirmed that there were no police inside the neighborhood at the time, which is consistent with a new policy. "Once trash cans begin to burn and things heat up, we move out to the perimeter of the neighborhood and stop all vehicles from entering," the sources said.

According to the same sources, the cab that was attacked was already inside the neighborhood when the vehicle curfew had begun, or possibly managed to enter Mea Shearim through some road that had been overlooked and therefore not blocked. The driver reached a police patrol shortly after the incident. "He said the protesters broke the windows in his car, but that he didn't require any medical attention. The officers asked him to come by a police station the next day to file a complaint, but this has not happened yet," said the sources.

Rabbis at the Edah Chareidis took care to distance their community from the event, claiming the young people involved were "marginalized kids, not really our boys."

Meanwhile, the protests were echoed in the Knesset Wednesday, as MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said at a special Knesset session on violence that Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was not communicating enough with the ultra-Orthodox leaders and dignitaries. "I completely oppose those violent protests, but you're pushing even the more moderate public toward anti-police sentiments. How many times have you consulted ultra-Orthodox representatives?" Gafni asked of the minister. Gafni also noted that Aharonovitch's predecessor, Avi Dichter, held regular and frequent meetings with ultra-Orthodox leaders.

Chief UTJ whip MK Menachem Eliezer Moses petitioned the minister, inquiring about what he said was excessive violence used by police against the protesters. "The police has been using tear gas and shock grenades. It didn't prevent an incident in which a yeshiva student was run over by a car and dragged several meters, and on another occasion a police car ran over a protester."