Extremists Revolt Against Jerusalem Light Rail Expansion in Haredi Neighborhoods

Police arrested four people Monday in the latest violent protest by ultra-Orthodox extremists against the extension of the Jerusalem Light Rail to their neighborhoods.

Hundreds of Haredi protesters, many of them teenagers, took part in the demonstration at a construction site on Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem, which sits at the center of several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Haredi opponents of the expansion of rail service fear it will lead to an encroachment on their religious way of life by the secular state.

Police said rioters blocked traffic for two hours and some of them illegally entered the construction site, seeking to tamper with equipment. Protesters also burned trash cans, damaged the fence around the construction site, and verbally harassed officers and city workers.

Officers dispatched to the scene used riot dispersal measures to restore order, police said, adding that the four protesters detained for disturbing public order had been moved to a nearby station for processing and questioning. .

The police statement on the incident also noted that many of the rioters were minors and criticized their parents for “encouraging their young children” to take part in the protests, which include illegally entering construction areas where are stored dangerous equipment.

But in addition to the violence employed by protesters, footage shared widely on social media from the protest also showed one of the construction site security guards repeatedly punching one of the young protesters as officers were standing nearby.

Haredi extremists have been staging protests for months against efforts to expand light rail in the capital, but they have intensified in recent weeks and turned violent in many cases.

In a recent incident, participants attacked an Arab worker with an ax and a second worker suffered a broken leg and was shot by an air rifle.

At the same time, haredi media reported on violent incidents directed by Arab workers against haredi protesters. According to a report by Haredi outlet Kikar Hashabbat on Thursday, a Haredi man was threatened and physically assaulted by two Arab security guards at the Bar Ilan Junction.

Construction work on Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem was originally scheduled to take two years, but is expected to be delayed for up to a year due to ongoing disruptions.

Monday’s protest came a day after state prosecutors charged five ultra-Orthodox extremists with trespassing and rioting at the same construction site earlier this month.

In two separate incidents a week ago, prosecutors allege defendants broke into Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street light rail construction site, sat in holes dug as part of construction building and refused to budge.

Shortly after, protesters were evicted and arrested after refusing calls from police to leave on their own. Prosecutors said three of those charged Sunday also violated orders to stay away from the site following previous arrests.

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Jose P. Rogers