Ministers Condemn Police Violence in Meah Shearim

YERUSHALAYIM -
Police patrol in the neighborhood of Meah Shearim, during Chol Hamoed Pesach. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Chareidi political officials were up in arms Friday over what they said was an excessive use of police force to break up a group in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Yerushalayim. Police said that the group of about 100 acted in a violent manner, but protesters said it was police who had initiated violence, including throwing a tear gas grenade that exploded in front of a ten-year-old girl, injuring her.

Police said they were enforcing rules against illegal assembly in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, and that the group had refused to disperse, requiring them to enforce the rules. Meah Shearim is one of the neighborhoods that has been placed under curfew, with residents forbidden from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes without a special permit or to go shopping.

But critics pointed out that at the same time as police were dispersing the crowd in Yerushalayim, they did not interfere with a group of several hundred protesters who gathered in central Tel Aviv to demonstrate against a government decision to use cell technology to located Israelis who may have come into contact with individuals diagnosed with COVID-19.

The contrast made very clear that police were singling out chareidim for “special treatment,” said Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman. “It is difficult to remain aloof at the difficult scene in which a child was injured by a tear gas grenade,” he said in a statement. Some members of the crowd attacked police, and Rabbi Litzman condemned that, but “despite that we must prevent police brutality. Using tear gas grenades in a crowded neighborhood full of little children just increases hatred of police and contributes to the loss of control.”

Deputy Education Minister Rabbi Meir Porush said that “no incident justifies the use of tear gas grenades against children, endangering their lives. I demand that police immediately suspend the officer who threw the grenade and prosecute him. Other groups would have responded to this police provocation in a much more violent manner. The fact that chareidim are generally gentle in these kinds of situations is no excuse to freely hurt them.”