By David Katz, Etrog News
Yerushalayim policemen crossed a red line Monday night when they used stun grenades, tear gas and pepper gas against chareidi demonstrators, in addition to turning a blind eye when demonstrators were plowed down by an Arab taxi driver. The police lost all control and became exceedingly violent in their efforts to “protect the peace”. Such behavior by police has not been witnessed by chareidi demonstrators in Yerushalayim for many years.
The city of Yerushalayim has seen tens, if not hundreds of protests in the last 50 years. Ever since the murder of the Pinchas Saglov Hy”d during a demonstration on Rechov Yaffo 40 years ago, in support of the sanctity of Shabbos, police have reacted towards protestors with violence dozens of times. People have been hurt, there have been instances of collective punishment, homes and entire streets have been blanketed in clouds of tear gas, green and blue water has been sprayed on demonstators, there have been brutal beatings that left people crippled for life, and there have been barbed wire roadblocks shutting off entire streets during the days when a battle raged over Bar Ilan Street. For most of my youth and adulthood, I have been witness to dozens of protests in Yerushalayim.
It doesn’t matter who is demonstrating. It can be residents of Meah Shearim protesting the desecration of the holy Shabbos, demonstrating against stores that open for business on Shabbos, against stores that sell treife meat, against autopsies, against the arrests of demonstrators, or against anything else. Whether the demonstrators are level headed, respectable members of society, who hold a protest to express their disapproval of some particular issue, or if a protest is lead by a rebellious teenager who thoughtlessly sets a garbage can on fire, the police do not seem to discriminate with regard to whom they set their wrath upon. Oftentimes, their reactions to protests get completely blown out of proportion.
I haven’t written a word about the innocent pedestrians who happen to be passing through the middle of a demonstration (hundreds of chareidi Jews reside in Geulah and Meah Shearim) and fall prey to police violence, equally meted out to demonstrators and anyone else in the vicinity – in a clear expression of boredom, frustration, or naked hate on the part of the policemen. After they policemen were forbidden to put into practice “skills” they were taught during the Palestinian intifada, they are all to eager to show the chareidim what they learned in those special courses.
It doesn’t matter who is protesting, or why. In every case, the policemen release their frustrations on the chareidi demonstrators and pedestrians alike, whether or not the violence is actually justified.
Monday night, a Jew was murdered in Geulah. The motive was not nationalistic, even though the murderer was a Palestinian. He got into an argument with a homeless man staying at the hostel on Rechov Tzfania, and stabbed the man to death a few hours after the argument. The Jew bled to death, and all efforts to save his life failed. The police automatically went in to action. A murder? An investigation is in order. Fine. First, the murderer must be apprehended (he was soon located in Eastern Yerushalayim). Then evidence must be gathered from the scene of the crime, in order to re-enact the murder. And of course, any time there is an unnatural death or a murder, an autopsy must be performed on the body.
Until today, the police have not found a way to deal with this issue opposite the chareidi community. They cannot understand the concept of respect for the deceased individual, of preserving a semblance of holiness, of how desecrating a dead body is a serious transgression. And they cannot understand why Torah observant Jews are prepared to suffer in order to uphold these principles.
But instead of engaging in dialogue, they raise their hands to throw stun grenades, they choke an entire neighborhood with tear gas, they prevent thousands of elderly Jews, of babies and children, from sleeping at night. And only because one foolish policeman – and his rank and position are not important at this point – decided that the body of the murder victim must undergo an autopsy, come what may. Perhaps there are other ways of investigating the murder. Perhaps someone could speak with the chareidim about the dilemma. No. The policeman decided that he was right in making the decision that he did. For he is wiser than everyone else.
The arrogance possessed by the police encourages them to do whatever they want: from shooting live ammunition into the air, to hermetically sealing off an entire neighborhood, to ordering policeman to go to battle with a few hundred demonstrators, some of whom are delinquent teenagers. As a result, dozens of people are injured in the middle of the night. And nobody – not a single policeman – will have to answer for his actions back at the station.
The Israel Police Force has decided that in reaction to the Shabbos demonstration, and the insults that were hurled (quite unnecessary, in my opinion) at the policemen by a few undisciplined teenagers, a new policy would be adopted: “Zero tolerance for Chareidi Violence”. Like a little boy whose feelings are hurt when someone calls him “baby.”
The events that occurred in Yerushalayim Monday night may only be a preview of what the future holds in store for the chareidi community in the capital city. The police, under the foggy guidance of Commissioner Dudi Cohen, are adopting the new policy: “Zero Tolerance.” I would like to add, also “Zero Patience.” And while a policeman knows how to count from zero to zero, he apparently doesn’t know how to count to ten, and say to himself – “Wait a minute. I am getting out of control here. We are all suffering.” And I am sure that there are many policemen who get no enjoyment at all out of working the “Meah Shearim Riot” shift.
Nobody can predict what will happen next. Anyone who spent Monday night in the streets of Geulah and Meah Shearim will tell you it felt like a war zone. The cries of the injured, the insults heaped upon the policemen. Sounds of shooting, and people shouting out in confusion and panic. Nobody in the area got any sleep that very long night, even if he shut his windows tightly. The noises filling the air were too frightening to permit anyone to close his eyes and dream.
At some point during the night, the police attempted to take the body of the murder victim by force, in order to fulfill the mission assigned to them by one not very smart police officer. They were unsuccessful, and so perhaps the next step will be to bring tanks in to block the entrance to Meah Shearim…
Does it sound like a bad dream? Not really.