Jerusalem Haredim attack medics coming to perform coronavirus test, injure 1

Police crack down on violations of virus rules in ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, arresting 4 , amid public outcry over perceived lack of enforcement

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A number of residents of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood neighborhood threw rocks at a team of Magen David Adom medics performing a coronavirus test on Monday, lightly injuring one of them and damaging a car that accompanied them, the ambulance service said.

“A volunteer MDA emergency response medic who was standing near the building where the test subject lived, while wearing gear to keep from contracting [the virus], was suddenly struck by a number of rocks. Miraculously, he was only lightly injured in the shoulder, while the windshield of a Jerusalem municipality vehicle, which was being used by MDA to carry out the coronavirus tests, was shattered,” MDA said.

“A complaint will be filed with the police,” the ambulance service said.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is himself Haredi, condemned the attack, but stressed it was only perpetrated by “a handful of residents.”

“This is grave behavior that is contrary to Jewish law and harms those who are performing holy work for the public’s health and security while endangering themselves, in particular during this time of emergency,” said Litzman, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.

The incident came as police were cracking down on violations of government restrictions against gatherings in Mea Shearim, arresting four people and fining at least 30, amid an outcry against perceived inaction by law enforcement against segments of the Haredi population that have been flouting the coronavirus regulations.

Officers entered the central Jerusalem neighborhood early in the morning, checking its synagogues for prayer services being held in violation of the government’s orders against such gatherings.

“During this [operation], the officers took out and broke up crowds of dozens and hundreds that had clustered in synagogues and shtieblach,” police said, using the Yiddish term for a small synagogue.

According to police, more than 25 people received fines of NIS 5,000 for violating the public health statutes and five people received fines of NIS 500 for straying farther than the approved 100 meters (328 feet) from their homes.

An Israel Police officer gives an ultra-Orthodox man a fine for violating the government’s anti-coronavirus restrictions in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on March 30, 2020. (Screen capture: Israel Police)

Police said one small synagogue, on Zonenfeld Street, was also shuttered for 30 days following a court hearing after its owner was found to have violated the government regulations.

In police footage from the operation, residents of the neighborhood could be heard calling the officers “Nazis” and “criminals,” and referring to the female officers as shiksehs, a slur for non-Jewish women.

Police stressed that the majority of Mea Shearim’s ultra-Orthodox residents have been abiding by the government’s restrictions — which require people to remain at home unless visiting a small number of approved locations, like grocery stores and pharmacies — and said that only a small minority was responsible for the violations of the lockdown orders in the neighborhood.

“Police operations in the past week have significantly brought down the number of people on the streets of the neighborhood, and [the officers’] presence will continue to ensure that all residents adhere to the regulations,” police said.

The crackdown in Mea Shearim came a day after residents of the overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak — one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus — held a mass funeral procession and burial for Rabbi Tzvi Shenkar, a leading figure in the so-called Jerusalem Faction, a hardline group known for holding large protests against mandatory military service.

Police made no move to break up the procession, in which hundreds of people took part, despite Bnei Brak having the second-largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country. The force later defended the decision by saying a clash with the participants could have brought thousands to the streets and that it was therefore preferable to let the crowd disperse on its own.

Israel allows up to 20 people to attend a funeral, provided they maintain a distance of at least two meters (6.5 feet) from each other.

Following the funeral on Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the police, ordered an emergency meeting with the top brass and called for enforcement of the government’s orders “without exception.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a press conference on January 2, 2019. (Photo by Flash90)

Last week, police began enforcing stay-at-home orders, giving fines to anyone more than 100 meters from their home except in special circumstances.

Israel’s Haredi population has been among the hardest hit in the country’s coronavirus pandemic, apparently in part because of its close community structures, which result in large groups of people being in close proximity of one another.

Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox suburb east of Tel Aviv, has seen the second highest number of infections in the country, according to Health Ministry figures, after only Jerusalem, where the coronavirus has also spread through the Haredi community.

Officials have attributed the high infection rates in the region to a lack of adherence to Health Ministry guidelines (there have been many reports of large gatherings taking place in those communities for weddings, prayer services and other events in spite of announced restrictions), the crowded conditions in many ultra-Orthodox communities and a lack of access by many to media and communication means.

On several occasions clashes have been reported between members of the communities and police forces attempting to enforce lockdown and distancing orders.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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