Jews Clash Over Sabbath Observance
Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews hurled garbage and stones Saturday at a convoy of cars driving down a Jerusalem street that has become a symbol of the increasingly bitter battle between religious and secular Israelis.
It was the second day of stone-throwing protests by Jews outraged by a court action Friday that blocked a government order to close Bar Ilan Street for the Jewish Sabbath.
Police sprayed water from cannons to disperse about 5,000 protesters, prompting cries from the crowd of “Nazis! Nazis!” Mounted police charged and clubbed demonstrators to keep them from blocking the disputed street, which runs through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
Most of the motorists were secular rights activists from the left-wing Meretz Party who drove down the street to show their support for keeping it open.
By the end of the evening, 13 demonstrators had been arrested.
The crowd punched one policeman in the face and beat two undercover officers who had tried to disguise themselves as ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Protesters also broke a motorcyclist’s hand and pelted film crews with rocks.
One Meretz activist, 25-year-old Eitan, gripped the steering wheel of his car as he drove up and down the hostile street. In defiance of the Sabbath laws, which bar most activities on the Jewish day of rest, he also turned on his car stereo and smoked a cigarette.
“This city is dying because of them, and they are masking their violence behind God,” said Eitan, who would give only his first name.
About 70% of the Jews in Israel are secular and 30% are observant.
On the other side of the divide was 62-year-old Sylvia Feldman, who said the Meretz activists were needlessly provoking the people in her neighborhood.
“The Sabbath is holy to the Jews. If these aren’t Jews, they shouldn’t be here,” said another ultra-Orthodox woman, Rachel.