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Violent clashes erupt between police and ultra-Orthodox pilgrims illegally entering Mount Meron religious site

Haredi ministers outraged by footage showing police brutality

Jews trying to reach the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai after it was declared a closed military area, during the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer, in Meron, on May 26, 2024 (Photo: David Cohen/Flash90).

Violent clashes between police forces and thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims erupted on Saturday and Sunday after the pilgrims illegally entered a religious site on Mount Meron despite a police blockade.

During the scuffles, some police officers were filmed shoving and hitting several people, including elderly ultra-Orthodox men and women, causing outrage from several ministers and Knesset members.

The grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai on Mount Meron is the main pilgrimage site on the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer which was celebrated last Saturday and usually draws tens of thousands of worshipers.

However, this year the site was declared a closed military zone as the area has been a frequent target of heavy rocket barrages by the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah.

The police reiterated that the restrictions on the event were established to save lives.

"Since the start of the war, dozens of rockets have fallen in the direction of Mount Meron and many of them have fallen on places that, over the years, have usually had thousands of people,” according to a statement.

Despite this, thousands of pilgrims illegally entered the military zone, with some breaking through barricades and vandalizing the area. Footage from the events showed objects, including chairs, being thrown at police officers.

“At a certain stage, violent riots began, including throwing objects at police officers, as well as resisting by force the police officers’ instructions to disperse from the location,” the Israel Police stated on Saturday night.

“Beginning in the morning hours, thousands of people arrived at the area of the tomb compound, in the process violating the order of the Home Front Command and the law, confronting police and causing damage to the structures put in place for their protection,” the police said on Sunday.

“Nineteen police officers were taken for medical treatment after iron rods, glass and various objects were thrown at them,” the statement continued, adding that “so far, over 1,000 unauthorized people have been removed from the site and thousands more have been blocked on the roads leading to it.”

Several government ministers and Members of Knesset harshly criticized the conduct of the police and Border Police forces after footage showing police brutality began circulating on social media on Sunday.

The abuses included severe beatings of men and women, policemen roughly shoving elderly people, and one officer slapping a man before pulling a gun and firing it into the air.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on the incident Monday morning.

"Last night I watched the difficult pictures from Mount Meron that shocked us all. I expect the police to investigate the case to prevent unnecessary harm to civilians and call on all Israeli citizens to uphold the law and follow the instructions of the security forces."

The leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, called the footage of an elderly man being shoved to the ground, “Unbearable. An unforgivable crime,” and demanded the officer be removed from duty.

The Border Police commander and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is responsible for the police, later decided that the Border Police officer who shoved an elderly man to the ground, the officer who pulled out his gun, as well as a female police officer who beat an elderly woman, were to be dismissed until the end of the investigations.

“Similarly, the rest of the events will be reviewed, and lessons will be learned accordingly,” the statement continued.

“I strongly condemn cases of police violence against citizens. During the whole day, I gave full support to the police, Border Police soldiers, and the security forces who did everything to protect Mount Miron from real danger to lives,” Ben Gvir stated.

But when there IS exceptional documentation of violence against the weak, the elderly, and women, we must condemn and demand that the police take responsibility and be held accountable.”

“An unfathomable sight that can’t be ignored, justice must be meted out immediately to the perpetrators! There is no possibility of skipping this crime,” said Religious Affairs Minister Michael Malchieli (Shas).

Jerusalem and Traditions Minister Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party (UTJ) said, “The shocking sight of a policeman knocking an elderly Jew to the ground with blatant violence or another policeman shooting into the air at a civil event pinches everyone’s heart and is unacceptable. I demand the immediate dismissal of the violent policemen.”

Knesset Member Yisrael Eichler (UTJ) stated, “The harsh images of police violence in Miron prove that there are no ordinary human rights for ultra-Orthodox Jews. Trampling the dignity of ultra-Orthodox people satisfies the wildest passions.”

Channel 12 News political analyst Amit Segal, who is Orthodox, commented on the “hypocrisy from all sides” in the reactions to the unusual events.

“An illegal break-in of thousands to a place that risks their lives in the middle of a war. Severe police violence – and suddenly there is no outrage against the police in places that only recently tended to be shocked by it, calling it the ‘Ben Gvir police.’”

“Police violence – and suddenly the minister is quick to respond. There is a repulsive smell of a non-business attitude in the air, and it is not from the police’s [crowd dispersal] skunk spray,” Segal wrote on Telegram.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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