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17 arrested as police clash with ultra-Orthodox over virus lockdown violations

Officer injured in the head from stone thrown at cruiser; water cannon brought in to disperse crowds as cops close down Jerusalem school where dozens were illegally gathered

Screen capture from video as police use a water cannon to disperse protesters against enforcement of a national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, January 20, 2021. (Kikar Shabbat)
Screen capture from video as police use a water cannon to disperse protesters against enforcement of a national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, January 20, 2021. (Kikar Shabbat)

At least 17 people were said arrested Wednesday as police worked to enforce a national lockdown in a Jerusalem neighborhood where a school was found to be operating in violation of the closure.

It was the latest in almost daily recent incidents during which police have faced violent resistance to enforcement of the lockdown. Police have recently upped their crackdown on ultra-Orthodox communities following media reports of previous limited enforcement.

One police officer was injured in the head from a stone thrown in his direction. The stone smashed the window of a patrol car as cops arrived at an elementary school operated by the Satmar Hasidic sect in the Ezrat Torah neighborhood of the capital, police said in a statement.

The officer required medical treatment, police said in a statement.

Police clashed with protesters in the streets outside the building and brought in a water cannon truck to disperse the crowds.

Inside the building, dozens of students were continuing to study despite the mandated shutdown of the country’s entire education system, excluding special education. Police were able to clear the building of students and close the doors, Hebrew media reported.

After police left the scene, the students and teachers danced in the streets and made plans to return later, the Walla website reported.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that 17 people were arrested in the clashes.

The smashed window of a police cruiser caused by a stone thrown at the vehicle during protests against enforcement of a national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, January 20, 2021. (Israel Police)

Satmar, an anti-Zionist sect, does not accept state funding for its institutes.

Police said they also raided a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit and fined dozens of people found inside. Under the rules of the lockdown, no more than five people are permitted to gather indoors and no more than 10 outdoors.

Wednesday’s clashes followed violence the day before as police closed a yeshiva in the Sanhedria ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, arresting 20 people during street scuffles against the measure, and shuttered another yeshiva in the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

On Tuesday night, police shut down a wedding attended by dozens of people at a school gymnasium decked out as an event hall in Ramat Shlomo, a Haredi neighborhood of the capital. Citations were given to those who participated and the organizers fined, the force said in a statement.

The police moves against ultra-Orthodox violators came as criticism has intensified over alleged discrimination in the enforcement of the current lockdown restrictions, with authorities handing out significantly fewer fines in ultra-Orthodox areas, where the outbreak has been disproportionately intense and where there are increasing reports of widespread flouting of the measures.

In particular, many elementary schools have continued to operate in many Haredi areas, against lockdown orders.

Critics have said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is avoiding enforcement in the community so as to not anger his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

According to Channel 12 news, which did not cite sources, 40% of the current active virus patients in the country are from the ultra-Orthodox community.

Police officers during a raid on a yeshiva that opened in violation of the COVID-19 national lockdown regulations, in the Sanhedria neighborhood in Jerusalem, January 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Monday asked Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, a major leader of the Haredi community, to keep schools shuttered if the lockdown is extended, according to Hebrew-language media reports. On Tuesday the government voted to extend the lockdown by ten days until the end of the month.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday that Kanievsky has quietly given orders that the Talmud Torah elementary schools remain open, telling close associates that God is angry that Torah study has been interrupted and that is the reason for recent “tragedies,” an apparent reference to the death toll of over 4,100 since the start of the virus outbreak early last year.

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