Israeli road work at tombs sparks violent protest Police attacked by ultra-Orthodox

January 04, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM -- Large portions of Jerusalem were paralyzed much of yesterday while thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested against the excavation of ancient burial grounds in the expansion of the Israeli capital's road network.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas grenades to disperse the throngs of black-coated, black-hatted men as they demonstrated at a dozen points around Mea Shearim, the city's main ultra-Orthodox section, which they barricaded by burning tires and garbage bins.

As paramilitary border police moved into Mea Shearim itself, squads of students pelted them with empty bottles, rocks and even cement blocks from the rooftops of the religious schools.

Passers-by, including Arabs and non-Orthodox Jews, were assaulted; a Palestinian car was overturned, its occupants still inside, but police drove off the mob as they tried to set it afire. A young boy was injured in the melee, according to a police spokesman, as were six policemen hit by flying rocks. Twelve people were arrested.

The controversy is over a road expansion near Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem, where human bones dating to the 4th century B.C. have been found. The ultra-Orthodox Jews have rejected proposals to move the bones from their two burial caves outside the walls of the Old City.

For the ultra-Orthodox who strictly observe Jewish law and reject secular values, it was all part of a continuing struggle to shape the future of Israel.

"They were the first here, and they deserve respect. But they should not try to run things through force," Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek said later of the ultra-Orthodox.

Political observers said the ultra-Orthodox demonstration was the latest in a bold assertion of ultra-Orthodox Jews' political power in the face of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's secularist government.

The underlying motive, many Israeli political observers believe, is increased financial assistance to the ultra-Orthodox community.

In past governments, religious parties played a decisive role, these observers noted, and consequently received large amounts of money for their schools, synagogues and community groups. The allocations have been affected by budget cuts.

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