Several hundred ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police as they demonstrated in Jerusalem on Sunday to protest against a court ruling last week that rejected Knesset legislation deferring the mandatory conscription of Haredim into the Israel Defense Forces.
Police reacted violently as they tried to disperse them, with several videos showing officers, beating, punching, kicking and dragging the demonstrators along the ground.
The police internal investigations division opened a probe into alleged use of excessive force by officers, Channel 2 news reported Sunday evening.
At least two protesters were injured, with one of them, a 16-year-old, in moderate and stable condition, suffering from a head injury and internal bleeding, Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem said. A second youth was lightly wounded, the hospital said.
Police said seven officers were hurt, but gave no details on their condition.
The demonstration in Mea She’arim, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of the city, was organized by the hardline group Eda Haredit after the arrest of a relative of a prominent rabbi who did not appear for a draft summons.
“We’re Jews and therefore will not enlist in the Zionist army,” read banners held by several protesters.
Demonstrators brought traffic in the capital to a standstill by blocking the Sarei Israel thoroughfare. Officers were met with violence when they tried to clear the protesters, including a barrage of rock throwing, police said in a statement.
Eight demonstrators were arrested, police said.
Police used water cannons and horse-mounted officers to try and disperse the crowd.
One video clip filmed by demonstrators showed a police officer slamming an ultra-Orthodox protester to the ground, apparently unprovoked.
מחאת העדה החרדית. שוטר יס״מ מפיל בברוטאליות מפגין חרדי העומד בצומת. pic.twitter.com/xYl4sn6uKp
— ישראל כהן (@Israelcohen911) September 17, 2017
Other footage showed officers forcefully throwing protesters to the ground and punching and kicking them while they were being held down.
Police in response that they would be investigating all incidents of violence both towards and by police officers.
Last week’s High Court decision struck down a law exempting ultra-Orthodox men engaged in religious study from military service, saying it undermined equality. The decision raises the possibility that they could be forced into service, a highly contentious proposition with political implications.
However, the court suspended its decision for one year to allow for preparations for the new arrangement — which also provides the government with the opportunity to pass a new law.
Ultra-Orthodox political parties, holding key positions in the ruling coalition, are likely to draft new legislation that could seek to override the court ruling and keep the exemption in place.
The issue is part of a decades-old debate over whether young ultra-Orthodox men studying at yeshivas should undergo compulsory military service like the rest of Israel’s Jewish population.
After reaching the age of 18, men must serve for 32 months, and women must serve for 24.
Ultra-Orthodox seminary students have been largely exempt from Israel’s military draft since then-defense minister David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 students from service in 1949 on the grounds that “their studies are their craft.” Exceptional young artists and athletes are often granted exemptions by the Defense Ministry on the grounds that two or three years of military service could hold them back dramatically.
The ultra-Orthodox oppose serving for a variety of reasons, with the most extreme believing a Jewish state is not allowed before the coming of the Messiah. Others argue that study of religious texts is just as important to Israel as military service or that ultra-Orthodox soldiers would be confronted with irreligious behavior.
The court decision drew instant condemnation from ultra-Orthodox leaders and sparked a number of protests opposing the move.
On Friday, an ultra-Orthodox IDF soldier was attacked by residents of the Beit Yisrael neighborhood in Jerusalem, and was only extracted from there after police were called to the scene.
According to the police, the soldier entered a store in the neighborhood, which is located north of the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood. A large crowd gathered by the store, yelling slogans against the soldier and against service in the IDF.