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Rioters said to have attacked Arab worker with axe

Rioting by Haredi extremists causes damage to construction of Jerusalem light rail

Finance Minister Liberman says the situation is ‘intolerable’; construction company files lawsuits against key individuals involved in protests as riots cause delays in work

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

A group of Haredi men watch as a firetruck works to extinguish a fire caused by riots at the Bar Ilan Junction in Jerusalem, July 7, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter)
A group of Haredi men watch as a firetruck works to extinguish a fire caused by riots at the Bar Ilan Junction in Jerusalem, July 7, 2022. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Ultra-Orthodox extremists have reportedly caused millions of shekels in damages to Jerusalem’s light rail during recent protests against a new planned route for the train.

Haredi extremists have been staging protests for months against efforts to expand the light rail in the capital, but they have intensified in recent weeks and have turned violent in many cases. An extremist minority in the ultra-Orthodox community oppose the light rail running through their neighborhoods, believing it will bring with it unwanted intrusions from the outside world.

The Jerusalem Municipality announced recently that it would shut down the Bar Ilan Junction, which sits in a largely Haredi neighborhood, for construction work meant to establish an underground train station at the site. Videos of riots from Wednesday evening showed Haredi extremists disrupting the work by sitting down in holes dug up as part of the construction work and refusing to move, with some seen praying.

Other videos from recent days show rioters throwing rocks toward construction workers, climbing and burning down tractors and other heavy machinery and damaging infrastructure.

Responding to the images of chaos and violence from the capital, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said the situation was “intolerable.”

“The vandalism and violence by a group of Haredim in the Bar Ilan area in Jerusalem are just intolerable,” he tweeted. “These hundreds of rioters are disrupting public order and damaging equipment worth millions — delaying the opening of the new light rail route in Jerusalem.”

In one recent incident, participants attacked an Arab worker with an ax and a second employee had his leg broken and was shot by an air rifle, Channel 12 news reported.

At the same time, Haredi media outlets have reported violent incidents directed by Arab workers toward Haredi protesters. According to a report on Thursday by the Haredi news outlet Kikar HaShabbat, a Haredi man was threatened and physically assaulted by two Arab security guards at the Bar Ilan Junction.

In an attempt to confront the phenomenon, the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, which is leading the light rail’s construction project in Jerusalem, has begun filing civil lawsuits against individuals involved in the riots.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, six civil lawsuits have been filed so far against those seen as leading the riots. Each lawsuit is demanding NIS 300,000 ($86,000) as compensation for the damages caused.

“One cannot understand the malicious intentions that are guiding this ‘group of rioters’ until realizing that the defendant and his friends are motivated by criminal intentions and extortion meant to create personal and hidden benefits for the leaders of the group,” Moriah’s legal adviser wrote in one court filing.

According to Kan, some of the rioters don’t even live in Jerusalem but travel to the capital just to partake in the protests.

Meanwhile, police deployed riot control measures, including water cannons, in an attempt to disperse the violent demonstrations.

“The Israel Police will continue to allow the freedom of protest according to the law, but will not tolerate violent riots, vandalism and violations to public order,” a police statement read.

Construction work on Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem was originally scheduled to last two years, but is expected to be delayed by up to a year due to the ongoing disruptions.

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