Rocks thrown at troops bringing food to Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhood

No soldiers injured, but car windshield smashed; army chief denounces attack; 8 arrested after dozens take part in demonstration

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers of the Home Front Command give out food packages to elderly people obliged to stay home due coronavirus ahead of the Passover holiday, in Jerusalem. April 7, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers of the Home Front Command give out food packages to elderly people obliged to stay home due coronavirus ahead of the Passover holiday, in Jerusalem. April 7, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Rocks were thrown at two soldiers distributing food in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem earlier Tuesday, the military said. Later, dozens of residents took part in a protest and eight of them were arrested.

The troops were not injured, though damage was caused to the vehicle they were driving, with the car windshield smashed by rocks. The military said police were investigating the incident.

“Police forces are conducting searches to find the suspects,” police said in a statement, adding that rocks, eggs and other objects were thrown at the troops as they drove through the neighborhood, police said.

A car whose windshield was smashed by rocks in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem on April 21, 2020. (Israel Police)

In a statement, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi denounced the attack on the troops.

“This was a violent, criminal act, which deserves total condemnation. The fact that IDF soldiers who were assisting the local government and citizens distribute food were violently attacked by residents of Mea Shearim is very serious and requires denunciation, thorough treatment and soul-searching,” Kohavi said.

“The IDF will continue to assist in the national effort as much as it is asked,” he added.

Later Tuesday, dozens of residents of the neighborhood demonstrated  and eight people were arrested for disturbing the peace, police said.

The incidents came after a clip of a police officer shoving a Haredi man to the ground in Mea Shearim Jerusalem began circulating in several prominent ultra-Orthodox WhatsApp groups under the caption, “this is not Auschwitz, it is Mea Shearim.”

On Sunday, police also clashed with stone-throwing ultra-Orthodox men and youths in Mea Shearim who were protesting against the coronavirus restrictions. Five demonstrators were arrested.

Police said “several dozen people” took part, “breaking the peace and throwing stones at police,” adding that police “repelled the demonstrators.”

The protest came despite the government easing some restrictions and just hours before a closure on Jerusalem neighborhoods expired.

In video from the scene, police in riot gear can be seen charging at a group of protesters sitting in a main intersection and blocking the road. They overpowered the protesters and led them away as onlookers screamed at police.

Also on Sunday, the Justice Ministry opened an internal probe into an incident last week in which a 9-year-old girl was injured by a stun grenade thrown by police officers during clashes in the hardline ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

Riots erupted Thursday night with protesters hurling objects at police forces as part of a demonstration against the ban on communal prayers and restrictions on use of mikveh ritual baths amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests were not coordinated with authorities and did not adhere to Health Ministry guidelines on social distancing, like a 2,000 person protest against government corruption held in Tel Aviv.

During Thursday’s riots some demonstrators hurled rocks, metal rods, eggs and other objects at the cops. Violence also erupted inside one of the local synagogues after police officers entered.

CCTV footage from a nearby street showed cops throwing a stun grenade, which hit the 9-year-old who hadn’t been involved in the riot, and exploded next to a stroller with a baby in it.

The girl, Zissel Margaliot, told the Ynet news site that she was injured near her eye and had felt that her head was “on fire.” She said she ran, panicking, looking for people who would help her.

Zissel Margaliot, who was injured by a police stun grenade during a riot in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim, April 17, 2020 (Screen grab/Ynet)

Margaliot’s parents said they took Zissel to a private medical clinic rather than a hospital, fearing potential infection from coronavirus.

Police said in a statement that 12 people were arrested and that officers “did not notice the presence of the mother and child in the eye of the storm” while dispersing the rioters.

The police commander for northern Jerusalem, Brig. Gen. Ofer Shomer, told the Kan public broadcaster that officers had used “reasonable” force.

Three officers were injured during the riots, police said, with one requiring hospital treatment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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