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A Stormy Weekend in Jerusalem

September 8, 1987
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A small and relatively quiet demonstration of Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) outside the United Nations building at the Mandelbaum Gate former crossing point in Jerusalem Sunday provided a bizarre addendum to one of the stormiest weekends this city has known in recent years.

Nearly 30 Haredim and one non-Orthodox here were arrested during Saturday demonstrations by the ultra-Orthodox in more than 20 locations around the city.

The night before, six film-shows took place, one of them in a commercial cinema, and all were sold out in an exhibition by non-Orthodox Jerusalemites of solidarity with the secularist activists pressing for a more variegated cultural life in the capital on weekends.

The Haredim mounted several demonstrations close to Haredi areas on Friday night, but these were small and nonviolent. The action turned nasty Saturday afternoon, when, on orders issued before Shabbat by the Beit Din of the Eda Haredit, ultra-Orthodox activists led Shabbes demonstrations at key intersections throughout the city.


The main flashpoints were the junction of Mea Shearim street and Shivtei Yisrael Street, and Bar-Ilan street, the main artery from the northern suburbs to the western exit of the city towards Tel Aviv. In both these place, police were massed in force, and they used tear-gas, high-pressure water-cannon, mounted cavalry charges—and liberal swinging of their night-sticks–to keep the roads clear for traffic.

On the whole, they succeeded in this mission, though one woman driver was hurt by a flying stone that hit her car, and a policeman was also injured by a projectile. Police sources said more than 600 extra men had been brought into the capital over Shabbat. The commercial cinema that screened a film Friday evening, the Orna, had formally rented its premises to a non-profit organization, and preceded the showing with a lecture by well-known author David Grossman.

At Beit Agron, a municipality-aided cultural center in downtown Jerusalem, religious and secular citizens engaged in heated sidewalk arguments while in the hall a film was screened, preceded by a brief lecture in order to qualify as a cultural event. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem municipality announced Sunday that it would prosecute both the commercial cinema that screened a film on Friday night and the company running Beit Agron.

Mayor Teddy Kollek’s spokesman Rafi Devara said the Mayor distinguished between programs which were genuinely cultural and other ventures that were mainly commercial. Devara’s implication was that Kollek would defend film-shows at bona fide cultural centers but would not allow a creeping spread of films to commercial halls.

President Chaim Herzog came out Sunday against films in Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Israel Television quoted him as explaining that the special character of the city should be preserved.

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