Haredi man arrested by police, Saturday
Photo: Dudi Vaaknin
Dr. Hadas Hanani. 'There could be 1,000 reasons'

When will haredi protests in Jerusalem end?

Police refer to violent weekend in capital as 'a step up,' mayor and haredim holding steadfastly to their opinion in regards to opening of parking lot, but expert says there is a chance for calm after High Holidays

The haredi community's protests over the opening of a parking lot in Jerusalem on Shabbat continued this weekend, and as things look now, there is no end in sight. The past two days were particularly violent – a young ultra-Orthodox man was run over by a car, six policemen were lightly injured and about 16 demonstrators were arrested.


Haredi sources have vowed to "continue the protests until Nir Barkat capitulates and closes the parking lot," but one of the Jerusalem mayor's associates told Ynet on Saturday night that "the parking lot will remain open, and violence will definitely not change this."


A source in the Jerusalem Police told Ynet that the recent incidents were "a step up – in terms of the violence, the number of people and the attempts to block roads and block the Karta parking lot, which did not succeed."


According to the official, despite the recent incidents, the police have no plans to instruct the mayor to shut down the parking lot.


The police are still looking for a driver suspected of running over a haredi protestor who lied down under his car on Friday evening. The investigators have footage of the incident, but it is unclear whether the driver saw the young man on the road when he pressed the gas pedal.


Almost three months have passed since the mayor announced the opening of the parking lot on Saturdays, and the conflict appears to be developing into one of the most serious crises between seculars and ultra-Orthodox in the capital.


Sources close to Mayor Barkat say he has no plans to go back on his decision. "The mayor stands behind the decision and is committed to the public's safety and to the police's demand to open the Karta parking lot," one of the associates said. "It should be noted that since the parking lot has been opened, some 500 cars park there every Shabbat, and the route to Jaffa Gate – which serves as an emergency route – remains vacant."


Saturday's protest (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)


So for how long will the haredim take to the streets? If you ask them, time is not a factor.


"The war over Bar-Ilan Road took three years," Rabbi Yosef Rosenfeld, head of the Committee for Sanctity of Shabbat, told Ynet. "It won't end until the parking lot is closed.


"There will be ups and downs, and the mayor may be stubborn, but we are even more stubborn and nothing will help. The mayor must close the parking lot on Shabbat, but if he wants the city to go up in flames for years – go ahead," Rosenfeld warned.


Donations' significant contribution

Academicians familiar with the haredi world are also finding it difficult to estimate when the violent protests will end. Dr. Hadas Hanani, a researcher of the haredi society, believes the real reason for the protest's timing is economic.


"I think that the reason for holding protests at this time is the donations they have to raise ahead of the High Holidays," she told Ynet. "This is the period when they look for donations abroad, preparing booklets and leaflets with explanations on why it is important not to leave families hungry during the holidays."


According to Hanani, Saturday's protests are a significant part of the donation raiding efforts. "They show that they are bravely protecting Shabbat, presenting secular newspaper reports and pictures. It really serves them, it gives them 'meat' when they come to donors and tell them, 'We are facing the seculars, the municipality, the police, and everyone."


Hanani believes the protests will likely end after the holidays. "It will probably calm down slowly. They'll find a patent in the form of an agreement with the municipality, or have the rabbis say that the demonstrations desecrate Shabbat.


"After all, we are talking about a public which obeys rabbis, and if they tell them to stop – it will stop. Naturally, it can also continue if they come up with reasons. There may also be reasons we are unaware of, like power struggles within the haredi groups and different leaders. There could be 1,000 reasons."


Efrat Weiss contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 08.30.09, 10:17
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