Thousands of Haredim demonstrated Monday night in Jerusalem against the plan to extend the light rail tracks through their neighborhoods. 25 protesters were arrested on Bar Ilan and the Bukharim Streets for disturbing the public order. Police said one of the detainees was caught with a pocket knife and pepper spray on his person.
Some protesters set fire to a tractor used for laying down the light rail.
This level of violent protest has not been seen for a long time in the capital.
The Haredi community intends to continue the struggle against the intention to pave the ‘Green Line’ in the heart of the Haredi neighborhood, claiming that the train would lead to sexual promiscuity in the Haredi neighborhoods. Huge ads were hung in the streets of these neighborhoods, calling for people to come out and protest against the municipality’s intention to start work in the area. The zealots in Jerusalem are threatening to intensify the struggle if the municipality does not back down from the decision to move the light rail line ahead.
The demonstrators vandalized a lot of property on Bar Ilan Street, including traffic lights, garbage cans, and separation fences. In an attempt to disperse the protest and restore public order, police forces used means to disperse demonstrations, including water cannons in the cavalry unit.
It was also reported that by the end of the protest, near midnight, when the last of the protesters began to leave the area, the police sprayed water with a great force directly at the window of an apartment on the first floor of a residential building. The building was damaged.
The Green Line will start in the neighborhood of Gilo and continue through the Pat Junction, Givat Ram, the International Convention Center, commonly known as Binyenei HaUma, Sarei Israel, Yirmiyahu, and Bar-Ilan Streets, Hativat Harel, and Levi Eshkol, and eventually will connect to the campus line in the Ammunition Hill area and reach Mount Scopus.
Bar-Ilan Street has become a symbol of the struggle between the Haredim and the secular in Israel. The street is named after the leader of the Mizrahi movement, Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan. Bar-Ilan Street serves as a major artery on the way to the northern neighborhoods of Jerusalem and crosses Haredi neighborhoods.
After the Six-Day War, the northern neighborhoods were built across Shmuel Hanavi Street, and were inhabited by tens of thousands of residents who made their way from home to the city center and back through Bar-Ilan Street. At the same time, the neighborhoods near Bar-Ilan Street underwent a demographic change, took on a Haredi character, and travel on the inner streets of these neighborhoods on Shabbat was banned by municipal bylaws.
However, Bar-Ilan Street, as the main traffic route to the northern neighborhoods of the city and Mount Scopus, remains open to traffic seven days a week. Since 1988, the road has been the cause of a quarrel between Haredi people who want to close it for travel on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and secular people who want to travel on it.
In 1994, with the election of Ehud Olmert as mayor of Jerusalem, the struggle became extreme. Religious and Haredi spokesmen raised the issue in city council hearings and demanded that the street be closed due to the sanctity of Shabbat. Secular spokespersons demanded that it be left open, arguing that the road is the shortest and quickest way to get from their homes to other neighborhoods in the city, as well as to the city’s exit.
The struggle led to demonstrations and acts of violence, causing a great deal of controversy in the Israeli public, and for 20 years involved many governmental institutions in Israel, including the Jerusalem Municipality, the Knesset, the Ministry of Transportation, and, naturally, the Supreme Court.
Aharon Barak, the legendary President of the Supreme Court, said about the struggle on the Bar-Ilan Road: “The issue reflects a deep political dispute between the Haredim and the secular. This is not merely a dispute over freedom of movement on Friday and Saturday on Bar-Ilan Street. This is mainly a serious dispute over religion and state relations in Israel; this is a sharp controversy over the character of Israel as a Jewish state versus a democratic state.”