Riots in Jerusalem over the recent arrest of an ultra-Orthodox woman suspected of starving her 3-year-old son escalated as demonstrators concluded their third consecutive day of violent protests with no indication that they were planning to ease up.
So far ten police officers have been lightly hurt by stone throwers. Three of them were taken to the emergency room at Hadassah hospital after sustaining head injuries. All in all, hundreds of police officers participated in the dispersal efforts, including officers called up from other districts. 20 demonstrators were detained for questioning.
The riots erupted Tuesday when the news of the arrest became public. The ultra-Orthodox community was outraged that the woman, who belongs to one of the most extreme ultra-Orthodox sects, was in custody, rejecting suspicions that she had systematically starved her son over the course of the last two years. The boy is currently hospitalized in serious condition and weighing only seven kilograms.
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protesters hurled rocks at police late Thursday night on Highway 1 near the Haredi neighborhood of Beit Yisrael. Police arrested dozens of people and used water cannons to disperse the crowds.
Hundreds of people also arrived at a rally, in support of the mother, held at Jerusalem’s Shabbat Square. The demonstrators called out insults against Hadassah hospital, where the ill boy is recuperating.
Earlier Thursday, Jerusalem District police chief Aharon Franco voiced harsh criticism over the failure of the Haredi leadership to speak out against the violent riots.
The riots escalated Thursday morning when protesters threw rocks at several sites within the city, set fire to garbage receptacles and vandalized traffic lights. The damage caused by the riots has been estimated at NIS 200,000 so far, in addition to the injuries of several municipal workers who were hurt by stone throwers.
“There is not one sane voice within the Haredi community that will rise up and cry out against this phenomenon,” Franco said. “They have rabbis, they have leadership, and I haven’t heard the rabbis or sages crying out.”
Franco warned of the dangers inherent in the riots, saying “they tore apart traffic lights, and without traffic lights we could see fatal traffic accidents. They dismantled the mechanisms in electric poles, and people could be electrocuted. I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where it says these things are permissible.”
“We could have released the woman from custody a week ago,” Franco went on to say, “if her attorney would have agreed to a psychiatric evaluation. It is possible to release her tomorrow if her family members agree to such an evaluation.”
Jerusalem Police on Thursday said they would ask for the woman’s remand to be extended, although the court has already ruled out an additional extension.
“At this stage, we still have not succeeded in seeing the family’s other children,” said Eli Cohen, the lead investigator in the case. “We tried on several occasions to meet with the other children, but their father is not cooperating with police.”
Cohen added that police need to investigate further and that is the reason they plan to ask for the mother’s remand extension.
“The mother has maintained her silence and did not cooperate during the investigation,” said Cohen. “During the early stages of the probe, we asked that she be evaluated by a psychiatrist, but unfortunately her lawyer has refused.”
Cohen also said that the family’s behavior “would not embarrass an organized crime syndicate.” He added that the family has threatened doctors and social workers and has caused severe damage to the welfare ministry offices.
Police are taking precautionary measures to ensure the child is not abducted from Hadassah University Hospital although no such threats have been made.
The city on Thursday closed off traffic on Bar Ilan Street and the Eshkol tunnel in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, after protesters filled the area with garbage during their demonstrations there the night before.
The Jerusalem city council said it could not clear the obstructing garbage for fear of more violence against municipal employees, though noted that it recognized the inconvenience residents may be experiencing.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 28 protesters were arrested overnight and one officer was lightly wounded. The protesters burned dozens of trash cans and garbage was strewn across city streets. Police used horses and a water cannon to control the protests.
On Wednesday, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat ordered his municipality to halt all services to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and Mea Shearim.
The services were halted in light of fear for the safety of municipality employees, as a Border Policeman policeman was hurt in one of the scuffles, when a rock was hurled at him by a protester. Twenty rioters were arrested as the protests spread from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh.
“The municipality regrets the inconvenience to residents of these neighborhoods who are not involved in the incidents occurring there at this time,” said a statement issued by the Jerusalem municipality spokesman. “We hope to renew the services soon.”