The Israel Police put out a statement Thursday morning defending officers’ conduct after footage emerged of policemen using force against an ultra-Orthodox teenager with autism the previous day.
The incident began when police came to the Mekor Baruch neighborhood of Jerusalem to prevent a group of youths from starting a bonfire celebrating the Jewish festival of Lag B’Omer in a location deemed dangerous, Hebrew-language media reported.
In the footage, officers can be seen restraining the boy with force on the sidewalk, with his face bloodied. They then get him on his feet and pull him toward a police vehicle while protesters explain that he “suffers from problems” and try to get to him, but more policemen and policewomen block their way.
The teenager — who learns at Seeach Sod, a Haredi special education school — can be seen, clearly in distress and pain, repeatedly shouting: “Mommy, I want to go home” and “Help, save me.”
Meanwhile, some ultra-Orthodox demonstrators nearby can be heard calling one of the officers a “Nazi.”
He was released later, but journalists and politicians lambasted police over the incident, calling for the officers involved to be punished or discharged.
“It is heartbreaking to think about this special teenager and what he has gone through,” said MK Meir Porush of the Haredi party United Torah Judaism. “Watching footage of the grave violence he suffered is intolerable and the hate and inhumanity displayed by the officers is impossible to understand.”
Porush called on Acting Police Chief Motti Cohen and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan to immediately expel the officers.
Lawmakers from the left-wing Meretz party also called on authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident.
Party leader Tamar Zandberg said in a statement that “police violence is a threat to democracy and is also directed at minorities, at the disadvantaged.”
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon said “the video’s content is worrying and the images are shocking and raise suspicion that excessive force was employed, while totally ignoring the citizen’s disability.” He called police’s conduct “outrageous, violent and disproportionate.”
Blue and White party No. 2 Yair Lapid said on Twitter that it was a “horrifying clip” and similarly called on police to “urgently” investigate the matter.
Police said officers faced “violence by dozens of rioters that included throwing of stones and other objects” when they came to stop the bonfire. They claimed the teenager had assaulted a policewoman.
“The suspect resisted his arrest, went wild and was injured in the face. Immediately after his arrest and as the nature of his disability was clarified, an officer at the scene decided to release him,” police said, adding that he was then treated at the scene by the Magen David Adom ambulance service.
The incident is still being investigated, police said.