Jerusalem parking lot to remain closed
City announces controversial parking lot will remain closed on Shabbat during next fortnight 'following district police commander's request', in bid to hold dialogue with capital's ultra-Orthodox community; find resolution which will prevent violent riots. Mayor Barkat criticized by secular residents over decision
Municipality officials said that suggested alternatives would be advanced during this period, and that if the sides failed to agree on a proper solution, the parking lot would resume its activity on Shabbat.
Following the decision, haredi leaders cancelled a mass protest prayer scheduled to take place Friday evening on the capital's Bar-Ilan Street.
The parking lot first opened last Saturday, prompting violent riots by thousands of haredim in the city. Six police officers were injured in the clashes. The mayor, however, was determined to continue opening the parking lot on Shabbat in order to solve the parking problem in the city on weekends, while ultra-Orthodox leaders refused to compromise.
"Mayor Nir Barkat decided to accept Jerusalem District Police Commander Aharon Franco's request not to open the Safra parking lot during the next two weekends," the municipality said in a statement, "after reaching the conclusion that there are alternatives which could provide a real answer to the parking arrangements problem and to the security and safety problem created.
"The suggested alternative will be advanced in the next two weeks. It's important to note that if a suitable solution is not found to the parking arrangements problem on Saturday, the Safra parking lot will reopen and its opening will be enforced by the police."
The haredi side, however, was unimpressed by the temporary decision. "The Safra parking lot will be closed, period," said Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknopf, chairman of the Committee for the Sanctity of the Shabbat, who met with Commander Franco before meeting with rabbis of the haredi community. "Isn't this clear? Does anyone really think that the parking lot will reopen in two weeks?"
'Barkat was elected by secular residents'
Many of the city's secular council members were surprised Thursday night when such an offer was first raised. Some secular residents even left a package of diapers at Mayor Barkat's doorstep – as a hint to diapers hurled by haredi demonstrators on police officers last Saturday. The residents wrote on the diapers: "Signed by the seculars who voted for you and were disappointed."
Knesset Member Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said in response to the decision that "on the day of the Iranian elections, Barkat chose to take Iran's way instead of a free Jerusalem. Closing the parking lot is giving in to the violence and extortion of the radical haredi establishment and is a slap in the face of Jerusalem's interest and the rule of law."
One of the mayor's associates explained to Ynet that Barkat's decision referred to the long term. "It's true that this week he may be attacked and people may say that he 'caved in', but in the long run this will be a success because there will be a solution for parking on Saturday," the aide said.
"Very serious progress is being made with the haredi sector, which will enable the opening of one of the Mamilla (neighborhood) parking lots," the man clarified, adding that creating a state of claim in the next two weeks would help reach understandings and solve the problem with the haredim.
Even before the municipality's latest decision, secular organizations working to open the parking lot planned to demonstrate on Safra Square on Friday afternoon and on Saturday.
"If Barkat gives in and the parking lots are closed even once on Shabbat, this will convey a message to everyone that those who act violently win," said Nir Pereg of the "forum of organizations for a free Jerusalem".
"It will be a real shame if force defeats the rule of law in Jerusalem," he added.
Forum members noted that Barkat was elected mayor thanks to secular residents' votes. "If he Barkat caves in, we'll meet him on Saturday at Safra Square and at the polling stations in the next elections."