Nineteen ultra-Orthodox men were arrested Sunday while trying to prevent construction work on a hotel and mall in Nazareth.
Riots broke out when burial caves thought to contain graves up to 4,000 years old were discovered during digging on the construction site. Police deployed additional forces in order to quell the disturbance.
Rabbi Avraham Freulich, a leader of the ultra-Orthodox community, warned against the removal of ancient graves. Freulich said a calamitous IDF raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza last week had been the result of the removal of such graves found in Ashkelon.
"We want to warn that the graves shall not be touched, as occurred in Ashkelon. Our belief is that the complication that occurred at sea with the flotilla was because they removed the graves in Ashkelon," he said.
Freulich added that he and other haredi leaders had attempted to appeal to the Nazareth landowners a number of times. "I arrived here in order to shed a tear on the graves of our forefathers," he said. "The Antiquities Authority unfortunately has no Jewish historical sensitivity."
Construction site in Nazareth (Photo: Hagai Aharon)
He suggested that the hotel and mall could be established next to the graves. "We have engineering plans for this," he said.
The riots were the most recent in a wave of haredi protests linked to ancient graves, the issue having blown up during construction on a new emergency wing for Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. The protests later moved on to Jaffa and Jerusalem.
The haredim received word of the graves found in Nazareth through the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The ministry was informed by the Antiquities Authority, which was the first to be told graves had been found by the businessmen in charge of construction.
On Sunday haredim arrived at the site and began to riot. Police were alerted to the scene and officers were ordered to arrest anyone who behaved violently.
The construction site is located on a central Nazareth street, in front of the Church of the Annunciation. It was fenced off by the Antiquities Authority early Sunday in order to allow for archaeological work.