Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat slammed the violent behavior of ultra-Orthodox residents of Mea Shearim as riots continued in protest of the city's decision to open a municipality-owned lot on Shabbat.
The clashes, which began Saturday night, were held under the banner of 'The Battle for Jerusalem'. Thousands of ultra-Orthodox men tried to storm the lot in Safra Square, many of whom threw rocks, dirty diapers and other objects at security forces. Both Saturday and again on Sunday, demonstrators lit trash cans on fire and blocked roads.
"There is no place for such rallies," Barkat said in a Sunday news conference. "I respect (the haredim) and their democratic right to protest, but I'm sorry they felt the need to protest and certainly the need to deteriorate to violence," he said.
Barkat explained that he was very surprised at the intensity of the response to the municipality's decision to open the parking lot of Saturday.
"We went through a very organized process in which we were very considerate. Our model was the same one as that of hospitals and hotels in Jerusalem – no payment is demanded and non-Jews are managing the site," he said.
The lot "provides a real solution to a real problem" and was developed "after dialogue between haredi representatives and the city council," he explained, stressing the municipality's efforts to uphold Halachic law in this case. "I don't understand the protests, but it's their right," he added.
Haredi organizers submitted and were granted a request to hold the protest, but promised to limit their activities to gathering and reading from the Torah.
Police fear that the weekend riot is only the tip of the iceberg. Haredi leaders have already issued a formal announcement that they would protest every Saturday until the lot was closed.
"I think this was just the opening move," Zaka Chairman Moshe Meshi Zahav said Saturday. "It's very comfortable for the haredi community to paint Barkat as anti-religious; the time is ripe for that. The fact that the first day of the protest garnered thousands showed that it was a success.