Ultra-Orthodox Protest Against Military Enlistment Order Turns Violent in Jerusalem

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    by Sidney Hunt
    Published: July 1, 2024 (3 weeks ago)

    What began as a peaceful demonstration in Jerusalem quickly escalated into violent clashes as thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested against the Israeli government’s order for mandatory military enlistment. The protests, which have been simmering for weeks, reached a boiling point today, resulting in multiple injuries and arrests.

    Background of the Conflict

    The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, recently passed a contentious bill mandating military service for all citizens, including the ultra-Orthodox community. Historically, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from military service, instead opting for religious studies. The new legislation aims to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into broader society and address the growing strain on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) due to the demographic increase in the ultra-Orthodox population.

    Protest Erupts

    The protest began in the Mea Shearim neighborhood, a stronghold of the ultra-Orthodox community. Demonstrators, including men, women, and children, gathered to voice their opposition to the enlistment order, carrying signs with slogans such as “Torah over tanks” and “Our yeshivas are our army.”

    Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, a prominent ultra-Orthodox leader, addressed the crowd, condemning the government’s decision. “This decree is an affront to our way of life and our faith,” he declared. “We will not bow to pressure and forsake our sacred duty to study Torah.”

    Escalation and Clashes

    As the protestors marched towards the Knesset, tensions escalated when police set up barricades to prevent them from reaching the government building. Scuffles broke out as protestors attempted to breach the barriers, leading to a heavy-handed response from the police, who used water cannons, stun grenades, and mounted units to disperse the crowd.

    The clashes resulted in numerous injuries, with the Red Crescent reporting that at least 25 protestors and 10 police officers were treated for injuries ranging from minor cuts and bruises to more severe cases requiring hospitalization. Police also arrested over 50 individuals on charges of rioting and assaulting law enforcement officers.

    Government Response

    Prime Minister Bennett addressed the nation in a televised statement, urging calm and emphasizing the importance of national unity. “While we respect the right to peaceful protest, violence and lawlessness will not be tolerated,” Bennett said. “The decision to mandate military service for all citizens is a necessary step towards ensuring the security and cohesion of our country.”

    The Defense Ministry defended the new legislation, highlighting the need for equal contribution to national defense. “Every citizen has a role to play in protecting our nation,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “We are committed to working with the ultra-Orthodox community to find a solution that respects their religious commitments while upholding our collective security needs.”

    Community Reaction

    The ultra-Orthodox community remains deeply divided over the issue. While some leaders advocate for continued resistance, others call for dialogue and negotiation with the government. Rabbi David Yosef, a prominent Sephardic ultra-Orthodox leader, called for restraint and cooperation. “We must find a way to balance our religious obligations with our responsibilities as citizens of Israel,” he urged.

    International Concern

    The violence has drawn international attention, with Jewish organizations and human rights groups expressing concern over the escalating conflict. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement condemning the violence and calling for a peaceful resolution. “We urge all parties to engage in constructive dialogue and work towards a solution that respects the rights and freedoms of all citizens,” the statement read.

    Looking Ahead

    As Jerusalem reels from the violent clashes, the path forward remains uncertain. The Israeli government faces the challenge of enforcing the new enlistment order while addressing the deep-seated grievances of the ultra-Orthodox community. With both sides entrenched in their positions, finding a compromise will be essential to maintaining peace and unity in the nation.

    The situation remains fluid, with further protests expected in the coming days. The eyes of the world are on Jerusalem as the city grapples with this deeply divisive issue.

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