Monday, September 18, 2017
One day after police violently dispersed an anti-conscription protest by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem, hospitalizing at least three men, Israel's police commissioner and Internal Security minister condemned the officers' conduct amid an investigation into excessive force.
The Mea Shearim protest outside an IDF enlistment center attended by hundreds of haredim on Sunday quickly deteriorated into a violent melee when riot police responded to rock throwing and illegally-blocked streets with water cannons and horse-mounted officers.
The protest was organized by the fundamentalist, anti-Zionist group Eda Haredit after 40 ultra-Orthodox men, including the grandson of a prominent rabbi from the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Hasidic sect, were arrested for refusing to serve.
Many demonstrators also came to protest this month's decision by the High Court of Justice to strike down the law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service while they are studying at yeshiva.
Although ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni issued a statement that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman agreed to release the grandson for Rosh Hashanah, the protesters refused to disperse until all the haredi conscripts were released from custody.
Video footage of the clash shows police body-slamming, punching and kicking several men, some of whom were already detained. Three protesters were treated for moderate injuries and nine arrests were made. At least one officer was treated for a light injury.
After the plethora of footage surfaced in the media, the Justice Ministry and Police Internal Investigations Department said they will launch probes to determine culpability among the officers seen beating the demonstrators.
During a Monday Rosh Hashanah toast at National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich condemned what they deemed excessive force by police as "unacceptable."
"A police officer is permitted to use force when carrying out his duties, however there is no excuse for losing one's mind as it seems was the case for some of the officers at Sunday's protest in Jerusalem," said Erdan.
"And when there are cases that appear to be excessive force, there is a duty to review them thoroughly to make a correction… These cases require an in-depth examination, and perhaps some soul searching," he continued.
Israeli police breaking up an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)Israeli police breaking up an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)
While noting that several of the protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers, Erdan said violence against otherwise non-violent participants cannot be tolerated.
"It doesn't justify beating a demonstrator who has already been detained and is lying on the ground," he said.
Despite conceding that dispersing crowds forcefully "never looks good," Alsheich said the officers responsible for the unnecessary violence will be held accountable after a formal review of the matter.
"I felt bad when I saw the videos [of the violence]," he said. "We must not allow such situations to get out of control and for violence to be used unnecessarily."
However, haredi Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whose constituency includes the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, was unequivocal in his denunciation of the police violence.
"This was excessive force that endangers life and that is clearly unacceptable," he said in a statement.
"The disturbing documentation of police violence proves that beating ultra-Orthodox demonstrators has become a way of letting off steam for no reason by violent and dangerous police officers. The police must stop this behavior immediately to ensure public peace."
Police said that while the officers utilized multiple riot dispersal methods only after protesters became "exceptionally violent" by blocking roads, throwing rocks, and refusing to disperse, any disproportionate force will be reviewed by the Police Internal Investigations Department.
"Police were forced to use crowd-control measures and arrest nine rioters in an attempt to prevent the continuation of this violent, illegal demonstration and the blockage of roads," police said in a statement.
Nonetheless, the statement noted that evidence of excessive force "was ostensibly employed for purposes other than enforcement."
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