Photo Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90
Police clash with Haredim in Bnei Brak, January 24, 2021.

A policeman fired in the air Sunday afternoon, feeling his life was in danger when he was surrounded by a mass gathering of local residents around himself and fellow police officers in Bnei Brak. A vehicle that managed to push its way out of the crowd hit a scooter rider, and thousands of protesters attacked the vehicle. The driver was eventually rescued by civilians at the spot. A policeman was documented throwing a small child to the pavement more than once with frightening rage and callousness. A policewoman was hit in the hand by a stone thrown at her Sunday afternoon during riots in Shabbat Square in Jerusalem. Hundreds of protesters gathered at the scene set fire to trash bins and threw stones.

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Riots broke out on Sunday in several cities with concentrations of the Haredi population. In Bnei Brak, the rioters sabotaged a bus that passed in the area of ​​the intersection of Aharonovich and Rabbi Akiva streets. They smashed its windshields and confronted passengers. The bus driver was injured. After the bus was vacated, the protesters set it on fire.

The news website B’Hadrei Haredim reported that dozens of marginalized young men raged for hours in the city of Bnei Brak, and attempted a lynch on the Arab bus driver of the Afikim company on Aharonovitch Street, who was evacuated to Tel Hashomer Hospital. Then they set the bus on fire.

According to eyewitnesses, there was no police presence at the scene of the attack on the bus, and a fire and rescue team that was called to the scene waited for a police escort before starting to fight the fire. Following the fierce fire that spread from the bus, the residents of Hashomer Street at the corner of Rabbi Akiva in Bnei Brak were evacuated from their homes. A crier walked around the buildings shouting to the residents, “Wake everyone up, the buildings are starting to melt, this is a real danger to lives, wake everyone up and get out of the houses already.”

There was a fear that the bus would explode and cause great damage and bodily injury. The electrical wires stretched above the burning bus began to burn and the electric company cut power to entire city blocks.

Despite the residents’ pleas and the fact that the fire station is located only a few meters from the scene of the burning bus, B’hadrei Haredim reported that the fire brigade was afraid to come out and handle the incident without police protection. Dozens of angry residents stood outside the shutdown fire station and cried for help. Only after about an hour did firefighters arrive at the scene.

Along with the fire brigade, a large riot police force arrived and threw stun grenades at the crowd, which included mothers with children and babies in strollers, who had left their homes in the middle of the night because of the fire.

Throughout the day Sunday and in Monday media interviews, police were harshly criticized for failing to distinguish between real rioters and innocent bystanders who all received the most violent and disproportionate treatment. This included attacks on women and children which led the Mishpacha newspaper to issue a one-word super headline on Monday morning: “Thugs.”

Police said the demonstrators “attacked civilians, and caused damage to property, incidentally setting a bus on fire while trying to harm the emergency and rescue forces and endangering the public and the entire law enforcement force.”

The Afikim company, whose bus was set on fire in Bnei Brak on Sunday, announced on Monday that it is considering canceling bus lines in the city and in other Haredi enclaves. A statement from the company said it would “conduct a situation assessment and consider together with the Transport Ministry stopping public transportation services in Bnei Brak. The same is true of other areas where violent incidents against drivers and property will occur. Afikim emphasizes that the blood of its drivers and its property are not hefker (worthless).”

Sources in Bnei Brak claim that the people who set the bus on fire were not residents of the city.

Police announced that they had arrested in Bnei Brak four who are suspected of setting fire to the bus and to the mayor’s car in the heart of a residential neighborhood and even tried to break into the fire station in the city while blocking the firefighters’ exit from the fire stations, after protesters had set fire in several hotspots on the main highway, and confronted the riot police officers who were at the scene and were tried to disperse the rioters using stun grenades.

At the Shivtei Israel light rail station in Jerusalem, Haredi rioters vandalized the cars, smashing their windshields and throwing black paint on the cars. The rioters poured cement on the light rail tracks, which could have caused the train to derail if the cement had hardened.

The Citypass company that operates the light rail in Jerusalem stated that “a lot of damage was done to the light rail and to the train station by a group of violent protesters who rioted there.”

The company added that “the demonstrators who smashed the windshields of the train and the stations with stones and threw sticky paint on the cars, endangered the frightened passengers. Citypass strongly condemns the violent and vandalistic attack, and calls on the police to prosecute the rioters.”

In the area of ​​Shabbat Square, police arrested two suspects for disorderly conduct and causing damage to traffic lights and a bus.

In Ashdod, riot police forces were posted in the early hours of Sunday outside the Grodno yeshiva of the Jerusalem faction in the city, where riots had erupted in recent days. The Talmud Torah remained empty, but a yeshiva source said that “each group will study in a different home and there will be more congregating. When the police leave, they will return.”

Protesters in Ashdod blocked the intersection of Bnei Brit and Palmach Streets in the city, disrupting traffic.

Over the past week, enforcement of the Corona Law has been carried out against the institution of Grodno Chassidim, but the yeshiva management refused to cease operations. On Sunday, the Chassidim clashed with the police and attempted to break into the building by force.

The Jerusalem Faction, a.k.a. the Bnei Torah Party, a Haredi political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2012 in response to the Haredi parties’ perceived moderate approach to the question of conscription of Haredim into the IDF, announced on Sunday that “following the decision of the authorities to restrict the Haredi public in every way, using violent and dark methods reserved for regimes we thought were gone from the world, and in the wake of the deliberate and shameful harassment of synagogues, Talmud Torahs and yeshivas, which are the bedrock of the existence of the people of Israel, Maran the Rosh Yeshiva the Great Gaon Rabbi Asher Deutsch Shlita ordered a protest against these criminal moves and told us to announce at the gates that the voice of Torah and prayer of the people of Israel cannot be silenced. The protest will take place at the intersection of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shach streets, near the Itzkowitz Synagogue in Bnei Brak, and will continue to spread as far as possible to other places.”

On Sunday, riots broke out in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem after police located a yeshiva that acted contrary to the Corona Law, and arrived there to carry out the enforcement of the regulations. Dozens of people were already there and hundreds more began to gather outside the yeshiva, and some of the protesters began to throw objects at police officers. One suspect was arrested for disorderly conduct and police continued to use crowd control means.

In another incident in Jerusalem, police located a bus carrying dozens of students that was on its way to one of the city’s educational institutions, which opened its doors in violation of the law. After conducting an investigation and discovering that these are not special-ed students, and since the driver did not hold a special permit to operate during the lockdown, he was fined NIS 5,000 and was instructed to reverse his course and disperse the students in their homes.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.