In Jerusalem, city authorities hope that a compromise reached today will end violent protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews. The protests began earlier this week after an ultra-Orthodox woman was arrested. She was suspected of systematically starving her three-year-old son. The woman belongs to a sect that rejects any interference in families' domestic matters.

NPR's Peter Kenyon has this story on the protests and the compromise that might end them.

PETER KENYON: Protests by Jerusalem's very active ultra-Orthodox community are not new.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

KENYON: This audio is from a demonstration last week against the city's decision to open a parking lot on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Israeli commentators say that anger appeared to multiply when an ultra-Orthodox woman was arrested on suspicion of systematically starving her three-year-old son.

A photograph of the emaciated boy, said to weigh just 15 pounds, shocked many Israelis. But it was the mother's arrest that enraged ultra-Orthodox protestors. The woman belongs to a sect that rejects any interference in domestic matters. Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators refuse to believe that the woman was harming her child, claiming the hospital was experimenting on the boy - a charge the hospital rejected.

The protestors stymied traffic and clashed violently with police night after night this week. Demonstrators in traditional dress threw stones, burned trash, destroyed streetlights and disrupted traffic, while police used horse-mounted patrols and water cannons to try to disperse them.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says reinforcements were brought in to deal with the increasingly violent protests.

Mr. MICKY ROSENFELD (Israeli Police Spokesman): Unfortunately, just last night there were 18 police officers that were injured - eight of them been taken to hospital and treated. And we made over 50 arrests after police were confronted and attacked by ultra-religious representatives.

KENYON: Then today came a potential turning point in the case, or so, at least, authorities are hoping. Officials say that at a court hearing, the woman - who has not been identified - agreed to undergo a psychiatric examination and not to see her children for the moment. And the court agreed to release her to house arrest after a prominent rabbi paid more than $100,000 in bail.

Police spokesman Rosenfeld says discussions between the police and ultra-Orthodox leaders have been going on since the riots began, and he's hopeful that today's developments will allow cooler heads to prevail, both in the child abuse case and the parking lot issue.

Mr. ROSENFELD: But once again, there are extremists within that community on both issues, not just the issue of the woman and her son, but the issue of the car park. We're hoping that now that the first issue seems to be resolved, we're hoping that things will be calm relatively in Jerusalem over this coming Sabbath.

KENYON: Ultra-Orthodox Jews are known collectively as the Haredim to secular Israelis. But that ignores the fact that there are many different branches of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Several oppose the Zionist movement. At least one sect actively embraces Palestinian groups: Members of the tiny Neturei Karta sect reportedly visited with Hamas leaders in Gaza yesterday.

The replacement of an ultra-Orthodox mayor in Jerusalem with a secular one hasn't helped relations between the municipality and ultra-Orthodox residents. On the other hand, the election of Mayor Nir Barkat was a relief to secular Jerusalemites, who have long voiced dismay at the steadily growing religious presence in their city.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from