Sunday, August 23, 2009


Report from the Shabbos Riots

by Reb Akiva at Mystical Paths

This Shabbos I attended a family simcha in Jerusalem in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood. What I didn't expect to also be attending was Shabbos riots. Not the ones by Meah Shearim, these are right by the Old City!

Right next to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mamilla shopping center and residential complex has been developed. It's very upscale, with mostly semi-high fashion American brand stores. The restaurants, all with large patio areas, are all local upscale Israeli chains - glatt kosher for Jerusalem.

Underneath the whole thing is a large underground parking area, one portion of which also has special capacity for buses. It's one of only two parking lots of any size anywhere near the Old City (and the other lot has a capacity of about 30 buses and 40 cars - near the Diaspora Yeshiva, Mt. Zion.)

Here's the basis of the conflict: the new Mayor of Jerusalem has opened the Mamilla parking lot - operated by the municipality - on Shabbos. The majority of visitors are non-Jewish tourists from around the world arriving by tour bus, mainly non-Jewish tour operators - including some Arab bus tour operators, but some are drivers from Tel Aviv or other non-religious Israeli areas. All are coming to enjoy various parts of the Old City that operate on Shabbos, including the churches, the Arab shuk (open market), and even coming to the Kotel.

The buses are driving by religious Jewish neighborhoods and drawing heavy tourist traffic into Jerusalem on Shabbos. It's also the Jewish Municipality of Jerusalem operating a business on Shabbos (even if the workers are non-Jews). It is, essentially, the City of Jerusalem ignoring the sanctity of Shabbos.

Now this battle is different from other's you've been hearing about. There's about 500-1000 ultra-orthodox Jews - of a wide strip and mix, trying to prevent buses from entering the parking garage. There's about 100 Arab counter-protesters, demanding that the lot be open and accessible (as this is bringing business into their neighborhood on Saturday). And there's about 300 riot police, including regular Israeli police, Israeli border police, Yassam storm troopers, 2 German riot horses, and a water cannon.

The time for the face off is in the afternoon, after everyone is back from synagogue and done with their afternoon meal. It runs through mincha time (right before sunset), when it basically disperses.

This week a few ultra-orthodox got beat up, and one policemen who went after the crowd violently but did so alone, resulting in him getting bodily thrown over a police car by the crowd.

I spoke with one border policeman after it had pretty much broken up. He said most of the security forces don't want to be there, but they've been ordered in by the government so they're doing their job. They think its a stupid move on the mayors part to push this (and by extension the Minister of Security who's either ordering in the security forces or supporting their commanders in doing so).

The crowd isn't backing down and is prepared to continue this week after week until the government gives in. The sanctity of Shabbos is not for debate.

Similarly the government isn't going to let a crowd, or by extension the people, tell them what to do.

The good news is the security forces are not coming with guns (perhaps concerned in the heat of the moment they'd be tempted to use them), and the crowd is limiting their actions due to Shabbos. It's a hot tense standoff.

Time will tell if wiser heads will prevail and reach a compromise.


  1. If Moslem Arabs had laws about not driving on Fridays, would they let anyone drive cars in their Islamic countries on Fridays? they are the only ones who have no right to complain about Jews protesting this issue in their Jewish country.

  2. I was there on Shabbat, too. I've been there most Shabbatot this summer. I didn't see any Arab demonstrators, let alone a hundred.

    Perhaps they were someplace that I couldn't see them? I was standing across the street from the entrance or exit of the garage, in the park, or on the stairs leading up to the mall.


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