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'They stepped on me, punched me in face. I couldn’t breathe'

Jerusalem police filmed beating ultra-Orthodox men, blasting them with water cannons

Officers respond violently to protests, attacks against a store selling non-kosher phones; bystander is beaten and arrested after trying to speak with undercover detectives

Police arrest ultra-Orthodox pedestrian Haim Mizrachi in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Screenshot)
Police arrest ultra-Orthodox pedestrian Haim Mizrachi in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Screenshot)

Police in Jerusalem sparked outrage this week by beating ultra-Orthodox men and blasting them with water cannons amid protests in the capital’s Geula neighborhood.

The violence erupted after hundreds of demonstrators massed in the area on Wednesday to protest a store selling non-kosher cell phones.

The demonstrators intended to damage the store and shutter the business, and broke the storefront’s windows, the owner told Channel 12.

“It was a nightmare. It was traumatic. Not only did they chase away customers, but they also came to cause damage. From the start, they came to break things, to destroy,” he said.

Police were deployed to the area to protect the business and restore public order, and were seen shoving, punching and knocking down protesters and passersby, and spraying water cannons against people and buildings on a residential street.

One man, identified as Haim Mizrachi, was seen in security footage trying to get the attention of police detectives in a civilian vehicle. The detectives were driving against traffic and had bumped into another car. Mizrachi apparently did not realize the men were police officers.

Video leading up to the incident shows him calmly speaking to other people on the street, then approaching and speaking to the officers in the car before walking away. An officer then chases him, drags him against a car and begins beating him. Other officers join in. At no point does Mizrachi appear to act violently or act out in protest.

Mizrachi told Channel 12 about the incident on Thursday.

“I said I’ll go tell him that he scratched a car. He told me, ‘Okay, okay,’ like ‘I’m coming over.’ Suddenly they jumped on me, choked me, started punching me.”

“They put me in a police car, stepped on me, and punched me in the face. I told them I couldn’t breathe. He told me, ‘You’re getting enough breath,’ and hit me,” an emotional Mizrachi said.

The officers took him to a police station in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound. He said they held him there and denied him the use of a bathroom.

Police claimed Mizrachi had assaulted an officer. They said protesters at the scene had blocked traffic and disturbed public order, and at least six had been arrested.

Footage from shortly after that incident shows police water cannons blasting an ultra-Orthodox man to the ground on a city street.

In the video, the man stands alone on the side of the street. The jet of water then smashes his midsection, hurling him into a curb, head first. He then slumps on the sidewalk, not moving.

“I approached him right away. I saw that he didn’t respond to me, didn’t communicate,” said witness Yedidah Epshtein. “First thing, I called an ambulance. Then I went to take care of him. From what I could tell, he fainted.”

Kikar Hashabbat, a Haredi Hebrew language website, said the man had to be taken to hospital for medical care.

Police regulations say water cannons should only be used to wet protesters, and are not to be aimed at them directly, “due to fears of traumatic injury to sensitive areas as a result of the force of water flow.”

Other videos from Wednesday apparently showed an officer striking a youth inside the phone store.

Another clip shows officers running down a sidewalk and shoving a pedestrian to the ground from behind.

Mizrachi was summoned on Thursday to the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to give testimony about his treatment by police.

Police had held him in detention until Thursday afternoon and appealed against his release, a request that was rejected and criticized by a judge.

In response to the incident, police said that “during police activities, and after giving an order to disperse, measures were used to disperse people who were disturbing public order. We are seeing partial documentation that does not reflect the ongoing and violent public disorder that was happening in the area. If there are claims against police officers, they will be investigated by authorized officials.”

A senior figure in the ultra-Orthodox community told Kikar Hashabbat that protesters were still determined to shut down the cell phone store.

“Police force doesn’t scare us. That store will close within a few days. We’ll put up a fight,” he said.

Jerusalem police have come under criticism for using water cannons in the past, including using them last year against protesters demonstrating against then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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