Roadblocks Do the Trick in Eda Haredit Jerusalem Protest

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protested yesterday in Jerusalem for the second Saturday in a row against Mayor Nir Barkat's decision to open a parking garage on the Sabbath.

There were occasional clashes with police, but in general the demonstrations were less violent than previous ones. Sources in the municipality said they hoped the protests against the mayor's decision were on the wane.

This weekend's protests began yesterday afternoon when a few hundred protesters, mainly young men from the extreme Eda Haredit, gathered at the intersection of Shivtei Yisrael and Hanevi'im street with the intention of marching toward the Carta parking garage. The garage was opened for the second Saturday running, to serve visitors to Jerusalem's Old City.

A large police contingent under the command of Jerusalem's district police chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Franco, stopped the marchers by setting up roadblocks. Some demonstrators pushed, shoved and cursed but most made do with calls of "Shabbes."

Another group of about 20 protesters gathered at the Carta parking garage itself near Jaffa Gate, who tried to stop cars driving in the area and coming in and out of the garage. From time to time a protester would lie down on the ground in the path of oncoming cars, only to be removed by police and told to sit on the curb. Police avoided arresting protesters or acting harshly in order to prevent the scene from escalating. The demonstrators at the parking lot were heard calling the police "murderers" and "Nazis."

Secular people watching the events encouraged the police with applause. Only one protester was arrested yesterday at the Carta garage, after he tried to pull down a parking light. Police said they hoped the softer response this week and last week's arrests had "scared" the ultra-Orthodox, leading to yesterday's relatively moderate protest.

Last week, some 60 demonstrators were arrested. In an unusual step, police announced they would indict all 60 detained, 10 of whom are still in custody.

A member of the coalition on the Jerusalem City Council, Elisha Peleg, said yesterday he believed the protest was winding down. "The city is transmitting the message that Jerusalem is a city in which parking garages and roads are open and everyone is invited."

Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties on the city council met with Barkat on Thursday to "vehemently protest" the opening of the parking garage. Meanwhile, the United Torah Judaism faction in the Knesset sent a letter to Barkat calling on him to rescind his decision. However, despite requests from the more extreme groups, UTJ and Shas lawmakers have not threatened to quit the coalition.

At Thursday's meeting Barkat said he would establish an external forum to deal the religious-secular status quo in the city and relations between the two groups, including the matter of the parking garage. However, he also said he would not back down from his decision to keep the parking place open on Saturdays.