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Violence erupts between police, ultra-Orthodox protestors as officers try to enforce COVID lockdown

Three cities in particular turn into battlegrounds; one officer shoots his weapon into the air after being surrounded

Ultra-Orthodox protesters set a bus on fire in Bnei Brak as they protest police enforcing lockdown measures, Jan. 24, 2021 (Photo: Israeli Police)

Tensions were boiling over in religious neighborhoods around Israel as police officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed in three different cities on Sunday in some of the worst violence since officers began enforcing closures that were supposed to be in effect for several weeks already.

One officer even shot a live round into the air to ward off a mob he said was attacking him. Israel Police said that the officer shot his gun after “a mass gathering of local residents began to surround the policemen, throwing stones at them.”

“The officers felt their lives were in danger and so one of the policemen fired in the air,” the police said, adding that there were no casualties reported.

In Bnei Brak late Sunday night, a bus driver and his passengers were chased off a city bus before an angry mob set the bus set on fire in images that seared the Israeli media on Monday.

“I don’t know how I’m alive,” bus drier Eyal Tzipori told KAN Reshet Bet on Monday.

Hundreds of protesters faced off against police in the Mea She’arim neighborhood in Jerusalem when police attempted to shut down a synagogue. Worshippers assaulted police as they tried to enter even throwing a bench at them.

Clashes took place in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Ashdod.

In the last few days, Orthodox leaders have called for institutions to open up, while at the same time police have decided to clamp down on ultra-Orthodox communities that have defied closure orders for all three national lockdowns since March.

Many schools, Torah studies and weddings have not stopped in the ultra-Orthodox sector despite several national lockdowns since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Israel in March.

The current lockdown is supposed to end on Jan. 31, but will likely be put to a vote before that is approved, followed by a slow reopening of the economy and education system. In most of Israel all nonessential businesses and schools have been closed while many ultra-Orthodox schools continue to operate in flagrant violation of the new rules.

Police say they will continue to enforce virus restrictions “in all communities.” 

More violence is expected this week as one ultra-Orthodox organization called for mass demonstrations on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman clashed with Public Security Minister Amir Ohana during Sunday’s cabinet meeting after Litzman, the Haredi leader of the United Torah Judaism party, asked Ohana to explain why police were going “wild” in Bnei Brak.

Ohana asked Litzman why the local residents were going “wild” themselves.

“The footage will tell you everything,” Litzman responded.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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