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Violent Clashes Erupt Between Cops, Ultra-Orthodox In Bnei Brak, Jerusalem

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Police arrested 13 people in Bnei Brak on Sunday, during violent clashes that erupted as police tried to shutter a synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox city, where hundreds were praying in violation of the ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

Besides violating the restrictions on gatherings in enclosed spaces, police said most worshipers were not wearing masks or adhering to social distancing rules. After cops began handing out fines, the worshipers “began resisting and disturbing public order,” according to police.

Haredi men at the synagogue call officers “Nazis,” and urged them to “go back to Germany,” according to footage from the scene.

Videos from the scenes showed violent arrests of some of the protesters, which sparked accusations of disproportionate force.

In one video, a cop could be seen violently kneeing a man in the face, as several other officers wrestled him to the ground.

Other clips showed worshipers again gathering in the synagogue, despite the police effort to close it down.

“It’s very unfortunate that police don’t learn from past mistakes and carry out enforcement measures without coordinating with municipal officials, while using serious violence against worshipers,” Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein said in a statement quoted by Hebrew media.

Violent clashes also broke out in ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem, as police tried to enforce the lockdown measures.

Police used stun grenades to disperse a prohibited gathering, according to Channel 12 news, and video showed an officer shoving a young boy on a scooter to the ground.

Footage aired by Channel 12 showed hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protesters congregating in Mea Shearim.

Police said four people were arrested for disturbances. It said demonstrators were blocking traffic and burning trash in the Jerusalem neighbourhood.

There were also clashes earlier Sunday, as police stepped up enforcement against widespread flouting of coronavirus rules in the ultra-Orthodox community, following numerous reports over the weekend of illegal prayer gatherings in synagogues and other institutions.

Some spiritual leaders, concerned that adhering to the nationwide lockdown would cause many to halt their Torah studies, have ordered synagogues and yeshivas to stay open and to shun those who report the violations to authorities, according to Channel 13 news.

In the settlement of Beitar Illit, officers working to disperse illegal gatherings clashed with members of the local community, and arrested several of them.

A video emerged showing a police officer hurling a bucket at a young boy before arresting him. Police later said they had asked the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to look into the incident.

It was not immediately clear what preceded the incident, which prompted social media condemnation of police.

Separately, Channel 13 reported that one of its film crews was assaulted by a mob of ultra-Orthodox men near the Mea Shearim neighbourhood in Jerusalem. The two reporters were forced to escape on foot, as the crowd smashed the windows of their car.

Criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community has been growing in recent days, with reports showing that a significant number are disregarding lockdown restrictions during the Sukkot holiday, including by continuing to host mass gatherings.

As police have stepped up enforcement, there has been increasing anger in the ultra-Orthodox community and accusations of disproportionate force, including against children.

The ultra-Orthodox community has seen sky-high coronavirus infection rates with an assessment last week finding that the rate of infection in the community is 2.5 times that of the national average.

Ministers have approved fines of NIS 500 ($145) for anyone caught with other people not from their household in another person’s sukkah, a temporary structure used by many Jews during the holiday of Sukkot. Israelis are also forbidden from hosting non-nuclear family members in their homes during the holiday, and from traveling more than a kilometre from their homes.

No more than 20 people are allowed in outdoor prayer groups, while indoor services are banned. Worshipers must wear masks and observe social distancing.

Police have faced additional challenges to the lockdown from anti-government protesters who have continued their rallies during the lockdown.