A dispute about the height of a Lag BaOmer bonfire in the Mekor Baruch neighborhood of Yerushalayim has led to widespread recriminations and accusations of brutality on the part of police – who claimed that footage showing them beating a chareidi youth with learning disabilities failed to show an assault by the youth on an officer.
The incident occurred Wednesday night when a police patrol approached a group around a bonfire in the neighborhood. Postings on social media said the patrol was concerned with the size of the bonfire; because of the extreme heat Wednesday, officials had asked that bonfires not exceed a meter and a half, and this one apparently did.
At one point, footage on social media showed, police approached a chareidi youth, who, it turns out, suffers from autism and is a student in a yeshivah for students with disabilities. Several versions of the footage show officers beating him, and the helpless youth flailing about. Police arrested the youth, but then released him to the custody of a member of the yeshivah’s staff.
The footage generated widespread condemnation both within the chareidi community and farther afield. Shas MK Rabbi Yinon Azulai called for the officer involved to be suspended. “The attack on this child was shocking and inhuman, and the officer involved is not fit to serve in the police force.” MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz said that “police brutality is a threat to democracy, and it is always directed at the weak and minorities. I call on the chief of police to immediately investigate this matter seriously and to draw conclusions about the behavior of police in such circumstances.”
Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush (UTJ) said that “watching this footage was very difficult, the inhuman violence displayed is intolerable. I demand that officials bring the officer involved to justice, and to remove the officer from the force immediately.” Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir said that he saw a lawsuit ahead. “Only with a lawsuit that will cost police hundreds of thousands of shekels out of their own pockets will they learn. There is no other way to teach those involved the meaning of the term ‘human rights.’”
In a statement, police said that “during police activity to enforce rules regarding bonfires that otherwise could have endangered lives on Wednesday in the Mekor Baruch neighborhood, police were faced with a violent incident as dozens of youths rioted, throwing rocks and other objects at police. An initial investigation shows that a youth attacked an officer directly, and he was arrested. He resisted arrest, and during the attempt to hold him down he was injured in his face. Immediately after it became clear that he was of limited capacity, police released him and he was treated by Magen David Adom.” With that, the statement said, “the circumstances of the incident will be investigated thoroughly. As is often the case, footage does not show how this incident started.”