16 arrested in Bnei Brak during protests against new Shabbat buses
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16 arrested in Bnei Brak during protests against new Shabbat buses

Several dozen demonstrate near major road connecting Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva, attempt to block throughway

A Shabbat minibus drives through central Tel Aviv on Nov. 23, 2019 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
A Shabbat minibus drives through central Tel Aviv on Nov. 23, 2019 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Several dozen ultra-Orthodox protesters rallied in the religious town of Bnei Brak Saturday to demonstrate against new bus services operating in central Israel on Shabbat.

Protesters attempted to block the main Jabotinsky Road connecting the cities of Ramat Gan and Petah Tikva, and some clashed with police.

Police said 16 demonstrators were arrested for public disorder and assaulting policemen during protests Friday and Saturday.

Saturday was the fourth week since the Tel Aviv municipality introduced public transportation on Shabbat for the first time, in cooperation with several other major municipalities in the Gush Dan area.

Similar protests were held last weekend.

Channel 12 news reported that posters distributed throughout Bnei Brak in recent days had called on residents to “go out all of us to carry the cry of Shabbat which is being desecrated openly. Our Holy Shabbat will not be forsaken!”

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators blocking a road in Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, March 22, 2018. (Israel Police)

A survey released Monday found that the Israeli public largely supports the introduction of public transport on Saturdays.

Among Israeli Jews, 71 percent are in favor of transportation on weekends, including 94% of secular Israelis, said the Hiddush advocacy group behind the poll.

Other groups that support the measure were traditional Jews who said they were “not so religious,” at 82%, and traditional Jews who were “close to religion,” at 59%.

Ninety-seven percent of ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose weekend transportation programs, as do 73% of “religious” Jews, the survey said.

Among Blue and White voters, 95% support it, for Yisrael Beytenu, 96%, and Likud, 68%.

The survey was conducted at the end of November and queried 600 Israeli Jews from across the religious spectrum.

The study follows the Tel Aviv municipality’s groundbreaking public transportation initiative, which was launched in the city and surrounding communities on November 22.

The program, dubbed “We move on weekends,” has so far proved overwhelmingly popular, with buses overflowing in its first weekend, and the city ramping up the number and size of buses to keep up with demand.

Some 10,000 people made use of the service in each of its initial weekends.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai poses for a photograph at a launch event for new public transportation buses, November 20, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In Israel, buses and trains do not generally run in Jewish-majority cities on Friday night and Saturday before sundown. The practice was born of an agreement reached between the ultra-Orthodox community and Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, before the formation of the state.

Public transportation on Shabbat is strongly opposed by the Orthodox establishment, while secular Israelis have long chafed at their restricted mobility during the weekend.

The Tel Aviv program services several surrounding communities including Ramat Hasharon, Givatayim and Kiryat Ono. The routes, which cover some 300 kilometers (186 miles) in total and include 500 bus stops, do not enter primarily Orthodox neighborhoods.

Other Israeli cities recently announced their intention to begin providing public transportation on Saturdays, including Tel Aviv suburbs Ramat Gan and Ganei Tikva.

Earlier this year, a free Saturday bus line was launched in the northern town of Tiberias.

This week the coastal city of Bat Yam decided against joining neighboring the surrounding cities in offering public transportation to its residents on Shabbat.

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