The clashes came as authorities struggled to enforce COVID restrictions in Israel’s religious communities.
Ultra-Orthodox protesters clashed with Israel Police in two major cities, as authorities faced new challenges enforcing coronavirus restrictions in religious communities across the country.
Sunday’s clashes took place in Jerusalem and Ashdod as police attempted to shut down religious schools that had opened in violation of lockdown orders.
Throughout the pandemic, many large, ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects flouted safety rules, continuing to open schools, pray in synagogues, and hold mass weddings and funerals.
This has contributed to a disproportionate infection rate, with the ultra-Orthodox community accounting for over a third of coronavirus cases in Israel, despite making up just over 10% of the population.
In Jerusalem, police fired tear gas and putrid-smelling water to disperse a crowd of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox residents outside a reopened school.
Protesters shouted “get out of here, Nazis” at the officers who were filmed arresting participants. In the coastal town of Ashdod, police clashed with dozens of protesters outside an ultra-Orthodox school.
Five police officers were injured in the conflict and at least four people were arrested, police said.
Harry Fawcett of Al Jazeera, reporting from West Jerusalem, said anger was growing among many Israelis against ultra-Orthodox flouting COVID restrictions, “given the kind of impact that the rapid spread of the virus to the interior of these communities has had on the national health system and on the national economy ”.
“[But Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, at the same time, relies on ultra-Orthodox political parties for their support in his ruling coalition – so he has had to strike the right balance, ”Fawcett said.
“So besides taking place in the streets, this is a serious political problem for the Israeli prime minister as well,” he added.
Ban on passenger flights
As the country experiences a raging coronavirus epidemic, the Israeli government last week extended the country’s third national lockdown until the end of January.
Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday night for a week, as it seeks to stop the spread of the disease.
“With rare exceptions, we shut the skies tight to prevent the entry of variants of the virus and also to ensure that we move forward quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Netanyahu said in a public address at the start of a meeting of the cabinet Sunday.
The ban will go into effect from 12:00 p.m. (22:00 GMT) Monday and will last until the end of January, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
The Israeli Ministry of Health has recorded more than 595,000 cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic and 4,361 deaths.
New cases of the disease continue to rise, even as the country has launched a mass vaccination campaign.
Sunday’s clashes were the latest incident of heightened tensions over the enforcement of lockdown rules in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
Ultra-Orthodox Israelis on Friday attacked a police vehicle in the town of Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv. A crowd threw stones at the police car and punctured its tires.