Haredi politicians decry 'bloody and inhuman scenes'

Probe ordered after violent clash as police break up wedding over lockdown rules

Outcry as police filmed leading bloody, dazed brother of the bride out of Givat Ze’ev event amid screams and cries of family and guests; police say officers were attacked first

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Police lead away the brother of the bride after breaking up a wedding that violated coronavirus restrictions in Givat Ze'ev on October 14, 2020 (screencapture/Twitter)
Police lead away the brother of the bride after breaking up a wedding that violated coronavirus restrictions in Givat Ze'ev on October 14, 2020 (screencapture/Twitter)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a probe after a violent clash erupted as police broke up a wedding held in a private home on Wednesday saying it broke rules of an ongoing national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Video published to social media from the scene showed police scuffling with guests and family amid tables arranged for a celebration as people screamed and cried, with one man punched after being knocked to the floor. The bride’s brother was then led out of the house with blood streaming down his face.

Police and the family of the bride offered contradicting versions of what happened, with officers saying they were attacked as they shut down the wedding celebrations at home in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, just north of Jerusalem, while the family claimed cops violently stopped what they said was an event that met regulations that limit gatherings to 20 people.

Police later published further video from officers’ body cams that appeared to show police attempting to reason with the family, before one person, apparently the bride’s brother,  attacked the officers starting a brawl. It also showed one man demanding that they all be led away in handcuffs and that someone should film it.

Police said the man and one officer were lightly hurt in the incident. The homeowner was fined NIS 5,000.

The footage provoked an outcry, especially from ultra-Orthodox politicians, who have already been alleging discrimination in coronavirus restrictions targeting their communities and religious observance, and a heavy-handed approach from police.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party condemned the incident, tweeting “there is no reason in the world for police to break in with rifles in hand and harm people.”

Deri said he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the matter.

“I asked for a thorough investigation by an independent body. The prime minister promised to check the matter this very evening,” Deri wrote.

Yaakov Litzman, leader of United Torah Judaism, another ultra-Orthodox party, condemned what he called “serious police violence.”

“Alongside the need to maintain the regulations, this kind of disgraceful behavior by police at the site is unacceptable,” Litzman said. “We cannot remain silent in the face of these bloody and inhuman scenes, and this must not be ignored.”

The Prime Minister’s Office later said in a statement that Netanyahu spoke with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and the latter promised to conduct a swift and thorough investigation of the incident and make the results public.

Ohana wrote on Twitter that he had “with great pain” watched the images of the incident and “they are indeed serious and regrettable.”

Ohana vowed to personally check the matter saying he will not pass judgment until “all of the details are before me.”

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

However, Acting Police Chief Motti Cohen firmly backed the officers in a statement and lamented that the force was being criticized over the clash.

“Once again we are witness to an assault on police officers as they carry out their duties against those who are trampling on the law. To my regret, instead of hearing strong condemnation against those who are violating regulations and harming the officers enforcing them, there are those who chose to attack the police and discredit them.”

Government virus czar Ronni Gamzu initially supported the police actions, saying in a statement it was “a message” to those flouting restrictions.  “This kind of enforcement will continue. We have no patience for mass gatherings and weddings.”

Gamzu said he had no sympathy for the family. “Anyone who organizes a wedding at this time should take into account that he is endangering life from every point of view.”

However, after his response drew anger, including from Litzman who said Gamzu had “lost it,” Gamzu released another statement, apologizing for his remarks and saying he had been provided with “inaccurate and misleading information” about the incident.

“I take back my initial response, and apologize for the manner of the response,” Gamzu said. “The police have a difficult and complicated mission with the goal of maintaining restrictions and public health.”

Participants and the police versions of the events were sharply different.

Rabbi Ori Pollack, the father of the bride, claimed the wedding was held according to regulations.

“The police behaved in a horrible way. We put on face masks, they split my son’s head open. All this as they wanted to arrest my wife and my children resisted,” he told the Ynet website.

Mordechai Pollack, another brother of the bride, told Hebrew media that when police arrived there were only 16 people present, they were all wearing masks and that the wedding adhered to Health Ministry instructions.

He admitted that his mother had taken a video camera away from an officer, but said it was returned before the situation got out of control. Despite family pleas that the incident be resolved calmly, police insisted that his mother be brought down to the station rather than delaying the matter until the following day.

Pollack said his father was also injured, suffering cuts to four fingers and required medical treatment.

Police said in a statement said that officers were alerted to the wedding and when they arrived found that there were “dozens” of people present. A policewoman who was recording the proceedings was attacked by the homeowner and when officers then told her she would be detained other members of the household attacked them, including throwing glass bottles and bottles of oil, according to the statement.

One man was arrested and, as he resisted, he and one of the officer slipped in oil, falling to the ground and cutting themselves on glass, police said. They were both lightly injured and the detained man was given medical treatment at the station.

“Regrettably, in the last hour completely distorted details about the incident were shared on social media in an attempt to discredit the officers and to put the blame on their actions, instead of condemning those who trample on the violations, don’t listen to instructions from police and attack them,” police said.

After police left the scene the wedding celebrations continued.

Israel’s current national lockdown, the second since the start of the virus outbreak earlier this year, began on September 18.

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