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Ultra-Orthodox Jews Clash with Israeli Police in Jerusalem

By Robert Burger
17 July 2009

There have been more religious riots in Jerusalem, pitting ultra-Orthodox Jews against the secular Israeli government.

Angry ultra-Orthodox Jews threw stones, bricks and bottles at police, turning religious neighborhoods here in Jerusalem into what looked like a war zone. Demonstrators overturned trash bins and set them on fire. Police responded with water canons and mounted units stormed into the crowd.

Riots erupted three days ago, after police arrested an ultra-Orthodox woman for alleged child abuse. She is accused of starving the child, but Rabbi Yitzhak Kirschenboim says that is a lie.

The rabbi told the crowd that the accused woman is devout, and that the secular authorities are persecuting the religious community.

"We are stronger than the police," he said, "and we will fight until the last drop of blood."

Israel's Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said violence will not be tolerated.

He told Israel Radio that all those who throw stones and disturb the public order will be punished with the full force of the law.

The riots point to a rift in Israeli society between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular Jewish majority. Many of the ultra-Orthodox are anti-Zionists who believe that the Messiah alone can establish a Jewish state and that it must be governed by religious law.

Religious riots began last month, when the Jerusalem Municipality opened a parking lot on Saturdays. That angered the ultra-Orthodox who believe that driving is a desecration of the Sabbath. The violence has angered secular Jews who describe it as "religious coercion." They say that Israel is a modern, democratic country where religion is a matter of choice.

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