Jerusalem Weathers Another Weekend

Five hundred policemen and a large quantity of tear-gas enabled the city of Jerusalem to weather another stormy weekend relatively unscathed. Secularist leaders claimed success in that five film shows were screened at cinema clubs around the city.

Orthodox activists claimed success, too. They brought out thousands of demonstrators to the streets on Saturday afternoon to shout “Shabbes, Shabbes” at passing cars and at the massed phalanxes of police. Only at a few of these demonstrations were stones thrown — and the police immediately moved in with powerful water-firing trucks and teargas canisters to quell the disturbances and keep the city’s main traffic arteries open.

Only a handful of arrests were made — among them a group of Kach activists seeking to incite violence in Mea Shearim on Friday night.

With the weekend now over, attention turns back to the political plane, where the Shas Party must decide whether to secede, as it has threatened, from mayor Teddy Kollek’s municipal coalition. Shas Council of Sages was due to reach a decision by Monday. If all the religious parties pull out, Kollek would still have a bare majority to run the city, but the political move would inevitably exacerbate the tension in the streets.

AMBIVALENCE IN THE SIMMERING CONFLICT

Most of the action on Saturday afternoon was in areas bordering the ultra-Orthodox residential areas. Thus the main road past the Sanhedria Quarter was blocked for some time. Cars on the road to Ramot were stoned as they passed Kiryat Zanz and Itri and the main road to Tel Aviv was briefly blocked near Givat Shaul.

The scene in the mixed area of old Katamon, in south Jerusalem, pointed up some of the ambivalence that accompany this simmering conflict.

The Beit Din of the Eda Haredit, the ultra-Orthodox community, had selected a main street in Katamon as one of the 15 sites for demonstrations Saturday afternoon and the local Yeshiva Erlau was intended to set the tone.

But the head of this yeshiva, Rabbi Yohanan Sofer, and his followers have evolved peaceable and friendly relations with the broader Katamon community and he was not anxious to disrupt these ties. At the same time he had to toe the line.

The upshot was that his students gathered on the sidewalk for precisely 15 minutes and shouted lustily, “Shabbes, Shabbes” at any passing car. On the stroke of the 16th minute the venerable rabbi came out and gave a signal, whereupon the shouting instantly ceased and all the demonstrators trooped off to their study hall. Katamon returned to its regular Saturday afternoon torpor.

NEXT STORY