Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox men blocked two major intersections near the entrance to Jerusalem on Thursday, in protest of the arrest of a Haredi draft-refuser who had tried to leave the country.
The protesters, members of the extremist Jerusalem faction, first gathered at the intersection of Sarei Yisrael and Nordau streets, where they blocked the city’s light rail and caused heavy delays around the capital’s central bus and train stations.
Demonstrators then walked to the nearby Chords Bridge, where they lay on the road and blocked traffic in and out of the main entrance to the city for approximately an hour, Israel Police said.
Police attempted to disperse protesters with water cannons, and some were seen dragging protesters lying in the intersection away from there. Police said they took such measures only after a verbal order to disperse was ignored by demonstrators.
Members of the faction, which is considered extreme even among the ultra-Orthodox in Jerusalem, were heard chanting, “We will die and not be drafted,” as well as, “I will not join the army of destruction,” the Ynet news site reported.
A member of the sect tried to leave the country early last week in advance of Rosh Hashanah, but was imprisoned for draft refusal and sentenced to 20 days in prison. He has so far served 10 days of his sentence.
Military service is mandatory for most Jewish Israeli men, but the ultra-Orthodox often receive exemptions in order to continue their religious studies. Some of the most extremist Haredim refuse to even apply for such an exemption, often leading to such arrests.
The exemptions have long infuriated secular Israelis, but ultra-Orthodox communities have resisted repeated attempts to force them to register for the draft.