Thousands of ultra-Orthodox men took to the streets of Jerusalem on Friday evening in a protest over Shabbat screenings at a new multiplex movie theater in the city.
In two separate demonstrations in the capital’s religious neighborhoods of Romema and Mea Shearim, protesters clashed with police and Border Police officers over Sabbath movie screenings at the new YES Planet multiplex across town.
Clashes between security forces and the protesters erupted after young men began throwing stones. The protesters also blocked traffic and broke the windows of a building. Both protests took place in religious neighborhoods in northern Jerusalem, far from the cinema itself.
The police said that some arrests had been made, Channel 2 reported, after protesters attacked members of the media who were there to cover the demonstration.
The new cinema itself was open Friday night, drawing a sizable crowd. There were no demonstrations there; a handful of police officers were stationed at the 16-screen movie complex.
Earlier Friday, Israel Radio reported that flyers were plastered around Jerusalem’s religious neighborhoods, urging the ultra-Orthodox community to “stop this plague with all everything in our power.”
“Shabbat in Jerusalem is in terrible danger, the city is being desolated,” the posters read.
Israeli law prohibits retail businesses from opening on Shabbat, and those that do chose to remain open are levied a modest fine by the municipality. However, YES Planet’s developers argue that since the complex is entirely privately owned, and sits on private property, police and city officials have no say in its day-to-day operations.
Inaugurated this week, the 16-screen theater complex is located in the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Abu Tor in southern Jerusalem, and will join many other entertainment-related businesses in the capital that choose to stay open on Shabbat. With the opening of YES Planet on the Sabbath, the nearby Rav Chen multiplex, which also used to open on the Sabbath and had the same owners, has closed down.
A delicate status quo on Jewish religious affairs has been maintained in Jerusalem in recent years. Some 200 restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs keep their doors open seven days a week, none of them in ultra-Orthodox areas though sparking intermittent protest from the ultra-Orthodox community.
The community protests what it claims is a rising trend of Sabbath entertainment in the city, which it says desecrates the Shabbat.
The last major turf war between Jerusalem’s Jewish residents was over the Shabbat opening of the Karta Parking lot, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City. In 2009, a Jerusalem District Court ordered the municipality to keep the parking lot open.