Israeli Police are investigating two suspects in the Sabbath-evening attack by dozens of Orthodox worshippers at the Western Wall on the Israeli military’s personnel chief, Elazar Stern.
The attackers were apparently motivated by Stern’s role in Israel’s pullout from Gaza, which was completed last month. Stern was adamant about denouncing calls by leading Orthodox rabbis for soldiers to refuse orders relating to the evacuation of settlements in Gaza.
Worshippers surrounded Stern, who was in civilian dress at the Wall and accompanied by his family. They yelled insults and attempted to stop him from reaching the holy site. After Stern was surrounded immediately by police officers, the worshippers began throwing stones and other objects at him.
Stern was not hurt; a police officer sustained a light head wound but did not require medical treatment.
Police took testimony from witnesses who were praying at the site at the time of the attack. Other suspects will be called in for questioning during the course of the week.
Following the incident, Prime Minister Sharon telephoned Stern to express his dismay over the assault. “Sharon views with severity this despicable act of violence,” a statement from Sharon’s office read. Israeli Army Radio quoted the military’s chief of staff, Dan Halutz, as saying: “There is no place for this type of behavior, and certainly not just after Yom Kippur.”
Reportedly Rabbi Chaim Drukman, a leading Orthodox Zionist who is an opponent of the Gaza pullout, also condemned the attack.
The attack followed several incidents last week on Yom Kippur, involving Orthodox Jews who threw stones at people who were driving on the fast day.
A 2-year-old Arab infant was wounded on the way to a Jerusalem hospital, and in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood Jews hurled stones at a car carrying nurses on their way to Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Their vehicle was damaged.
Police on Wednesday detained six Jewish residents of the Galilee town of Ma’alot for allegedly stoning motorists who drove on roads during Yom Kippur. The six were subsequently released after questioning. Incidents of the stoning of vehicles also were reported in Nahariya, Karmiel and Akko.