Monday, July 06, 2009

Ultra-Orthodox riot while the Arabs shoot it out

Unquiet weekend


For 2,000 years, the Jewish people yearned to be sovereign and free in "the land of Zion and Jerusalem." That wish has not been completely realized, as two violent disturbances in the capital over Shabbat hammered home.

The first involved anti-Zionist Eda Haredit rioters - joined by other, non-Zionist haredim - protesting the Sabbath opening of a parking garage near the Old City's Jaffa Gate. The second reflected an abrogation of responsibility by authorities as Arab clans shot it out in Silwan.

Arab residents who called police say they hesitated to respond for long hours, and that ambulances were not given armed escorts (necessary when entering Arab neighborhoods), anxious calls for medical assistance notwithstanding.

THE HAREDI protesters violated the sanctity of the Sabbath they claim to be defending by forcing the deployment of large numbers of security forces - including helicopters, mounted police, and observant officers - at whom they hurled rocks and invective ("You will burn in the fire of hell," "Nazis," and - to policemen wearing kippot: "half-breeds.")

Other haredim opened a second front, throwing stones at cars traveling along Route 9. As night fell, louts set fire to trash bins in Mea She'arim.

Police reacted with questionable restraint, making just one arrest - compared to 60 last Saturday. It remains to be seen whether this approach will boomerang. Haredi elders did discourage overheated adolescents and children from participating in Saturday's unrest.

Police pledge to press for indictments of the 60 arrested, even as they continue to hold 10 of the worst offenders. The extremists are apparently divided, some wanting to up the ante by holding midweek protests that include many children.

The haredi claim that the car park upsets the religious-secular status quo is nonsense. The facility, in a non-haredi tourist area, is free and staffed by non-Jews to accommodate vehicles that would anyway have been driven into town and left, helter-skelter, to block streets and sidewalks.

One way for Diaspora Jews to register their censure of such extremist behavior is by insisting that Mea She'arim-based institutions seeking their support go on record as denouncing such Shabbat riots.

We are also waiting for leading non-haredi Orthodox rabbis to echo former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and challenge the pernicious idea that it is halachically permissible to assault security personnel of the State of Israel - much less on the holy Sabbath.

SILWAN IS located below and to the south of the Old City walls. It is home to some 45,000 Palestinian Arabs - tax-paying residents of Jerusalem who carry standard blue Israeli ID cards - and a small enclave of national-religious Jews based in the City of David.

The terrifying outbreak of night-long mayhem between the Rajabi and Udan-Gawani clans, reportedly involving automatic weapons and grenades, left two dead and up to 10 wounded. A number of Arab homes were set ablaze. Repeated calls for calm over mosque loudspeakers were ignored - which only added to the sense of chaos and abandonment.

City of David residents said their calls to the police were ignored; Arab residents said they called for ambulances which never came. A Magen David Adom spokesman said police would not escort MDA ambulances, so the Red Crescent was told to bring the wounded to the entrance of the village. Instead they were taken to an Arab hospital.

Yakir Segev, a Jerusalem municipal councilmen, told Israel Radio that police have essentially abdicated their responsibilities in the Arab sections of Jerusalem. "The chance of seeing a regular police cruiser is close to zero," lamented Segev. Unconfirmed Arab reports say that the police allow Palestinian Authority operatives (who are officially barred from the area) to deal with clan violence.

The police say complaints of abandonment by both Arab and Jewish residents of Silwan/City of David are unwarranted. They say a number of Border Police jeeps entered the area when the shooting was first reported, and returned when it resumed after midnight. They point to three suspects arrested.

Silwan is not located in Hamas-controlled Gaza nor in the Fatah-dominated West Bank, but within walking distance of the Western Wall, within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries. The police must act accordingly.

Sovereignty comes with responsibilities. When the latter is abdicated, so is the former.

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