Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox block Jerusalem entrance in draft protests
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Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox block Jerusalem entrance in draft protests

Police use tear gas and ‘skunk’ spray to disperse demonstrators who blocked the Chords Bridge, 10 arrested

Ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrate against the conscription of members of their community to the IDF outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrate against the conscription of members of their community to the IDF outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, on October 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Ten ultra-Orthodox protesters were arrested Monday, as police used tear gas and a foul smelling spray to disperse hundreds of people blocking the entrance to Jerusalem, in fresh demonstrations against military conscription.

The demonstrators tried to protest outside the opening session of the Knesset, but were dispersed before moving to the main entrance of the city, police said, where they blocked Highway 1 to traffic coming into the city from Tel Aviv.

In addition,  there were protests near the light rail station at the Bar Lev intersection in the capital, and demonstrators blocked Highway 1 to traffic heading eastward from Tel Aviv. Protesters also smashed bus windows and disrupted the Jerusalem light rail, the Ynet news site reported.

Footage from the the Chords Bridge showed police attempting to scatter the Haredim with tear gas. At one point, police used a foul-smelling spray known as “skunk” to disperse them.

There were reports of roads being blocked in other areas as well. Police said at least 10 people had been arrested.

Police last week arrested 120 ultra-Orthodox protesters in similar protests, in which several thousand hardline anti-draft demonstrators took to the streets in protests.

Some ultra-Orthodox protesters chanted, “We’d rather die than be drafted,” at the demonstrations.

The recent protests were sparked by the arrest of two yeshiva students for failing to show up to the Israel Defense Forces draft offices.

The so-called Jerusalem Faction, organizers of the protests, said they planned to push back against what they claimed was a police crackdown this week that has seen dozens of protesters arrested.

“We are talking about a significant increase in severity of the measures against us and we will respond in kind,” the group said, according to the Hebrew media Kikar Shabbat website that is aligned with the ultra-Orthodox community.

Protesters have accused the police of using excessive force, including during a protest last week in which an officer was filmed running through the crowd with a gun drawn threatening to shoot demonstrators.

Earlier this year, the High Court of Justice struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined equality. The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.

Police stand guard as Ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrate against the conscription of members of their community to the IDF outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

However, the court suspended its decision for a year to allow for preparations for the new arrangement — which also provides the government with the opportunity to pass a new law.

Ultra-Orthodox political parties, holding key positions in the ruling coalition, are likely to draft new legislation that could seek to override the court ruling and keep the exemption in place.

The issue is part of a decades-old debate whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at yeshivas should undergo compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population. After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months and women must serve for 24.

The ultra-Orthodox oppose serving for a variety of reasons, with the most extreme believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the messiah. Others argue that study of religious texts is just as important to Israel as military service or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with irreligious behavior.

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