Friday, June 12, 2009

The Parking Lot in Yerushalayim, Chareidi Protests, and Tactics

The press here carried large reports of a huge protest that took place last Shabbat in Yerushalayim. Truthfully, the spin on the protests focused primarily and almost exclusively on the fact that the Chareidim in their protest grew violent, throwing rocks and garbage - incluing diapers - at the police.
Their tactics were clearly terrible. No one should ever protest violently. There is never a legtimate reason to throw anything - much less rocks which have the power to maim and kill (isn't that what we said about the Arabs thowing rocks at IDF soldiers?). To me though, the most depressing aspect of the entire episode is that because of their tactics, the Chareidim became their own worst enemies, placing the focus on the protest, and not on the issue itself: the opening of a parking garage in Yerushalayim on Shabbat.
Because the truth is, on the issue itself, the Chareidim are right.
The issue originated with the fact that the government closed the Old City to auto traffic on Shabbat. Essentially, so many people would come and park in the alleyways of the Old City that it became impassible. So, instead of parking in legal spaces and walking, they began parking on the sides of major thoroughfares, blocking access to emergency vehicles and the like. This only raises the question: if, by law the city of Jerusalem and all municiple offices and functions are closed on Shabbat, how then could the city open a parking garage on Shabbat? Here's the answer in this week's B'sheva newspaper (see the middle article on the bottom of page five of this link).
המשטרה נימקה את בקשתה ב"פיקוח נפש", שכן לדבריה כיוון שהרובע היהודי סגור לתנועת כלי רכב בשבתות, וגם חניון קרתא אינו פעיל בהן, הרי שהכביש הראשי העובר סמוך לחומות מתמלא ברכבים שחונים לא על פי חוק וחוסמים את נתיבי
התנועה. כיוון שכך, הכביש היחיד שאמור להיות נתיב מילוט לרכבי חילוץ והצלה במרה של אסון חלילה, חסום בשבתות, והדבר מהווה סכנה לאזרחים
The police explained their request with the reasoning of "danger to life" since, according to its claims, since the Jewish Quarter is closed to vehicular traffic on Shabbatot, and the Karta parking is also closed, the main road adjaescent to the walls [of the Old City] filled with illegally parked vehicles which blocked traffic. Thus, the only road meant as an escape route for emergency and evacuation vehicles in the case of tragedy, is blocked on Shabbat, and the matter constitutes a danger to citizens.
In other words, to ease the congestion, the police recommended opening a parking garage with easy walking access to the Old City, for free, to be manned by an non-Jewish worker. This, they thought, would make everyone happy. The visitors would park in the lot, leaving the streets unblocked. The residents of the city could not object, because it wasn't the city itself that violated Shabbat.
Actually, wrong. Who are the people who are driving into the Old City on Shabbat? Jews, of course. And while the city of Yerushalayim was technically not violating Shabbat, it was sanctioning that chillul Shabbat, which should rightfully make religious people upset. This does raise the thorny issue of coersion, which is certaily a topic of lively debate here in Israel. But I argue simply that the fact that you want to violate Shabbat need not compel the government, which legislates Shabbat observance, to sanction that behavior. It really is a grey area, which makes protest the perfect reaction to objectionable behavior. You don't like something? Protest it. That's what democracy is all about.
But what about the issue of danger? After all, it's pikuach nefesh. People's lives are in danger, right?
Again no. Is opening a parking garage the only way to deal with the problem? I agree with the Chareidim. The city should not kowtow to people parking illegally on the sides of major thoroughfares by opening city-owned parking lots. They should tow the cars (with Arab workers, of course). After enough towing, people would stop parking illegally, and either find privately-owned lots to park in (that they'd have to pay for) or park on the street legally and have to walk a little farther.

This entire episode leaves me with two reactions:
1. I'm upset that this has become only a Chareidi issue. Why do they care so much more about Shabbat than I (and those who are like me) do? Every Shabbat Observant Jew should defend and protect Shabbat, and be willing to protest its violation and desecration. While you don't get a sense of this discomfort in the English-language press (JPost, IsraelNationalNews.com), when you read the Hebrew language versions, it comes out loud and clear. Take for example this quote, which appears in the Hebrew language version of Arutz 7, but I didn't see translated into English.
ח"כ ד"ר מיכאל בן ארי (האיחוד הלאומי) מביע התנגדות לפתיחת חניון ספרא בשבת, "שבת היא אחד מערכיה הבסיסיים של היהדות, חבל שעיריית ירושלים פוגעת במה שקדוש לעם היהודי, יחד עם זאת אין מקום לאלימות ולגידופים ויש לפתור בהסכמה את הסוגיה שפוגעת בנפשם של המוני בית ישראל."
Knesset Member Dr. Michael ben Ari (Ichud Haleumi) expressed his opposition to the opening of the Safra Parking on Shabbat. "Shabbat is one of the basic values of Judaism. It is sad that the city of Jerusalem strikes against that which is holy to the Jewish nation. At the same time, there is no place for violence or cursing, and we should resolve this issue - which strikes in the souls of the masses of the House of Israel by concensus."
Even more interesting is the article that appeared in this week's Besheva, the newspaper published by Arutz 7 in Hebrew and distributed for free here in Israel. You'd think from the press reports that the city of Jerusalem went ahead with its plans to open the parking lot without consulting with anyone, and that it wanted to run roughshod over Shabbat, irrespective of the feelings of religious Jews on the matter. But that was not the case. The article in this week's B'sheva reported that,

בקשת המשטרה נדונה בפורום של מועצת העיר בנוכחות הרב נבנצל והרב שמחה קוק. הפורום דחה את הרעיון לפתוח את חניון קרתא, שכן הדבר יגרום לחילול שבת המוני, בעיקר בשל העובדה שמעל החניון ממוקם קניון ממילא, אשר יתפתה לפתוח את שעריו בשבת לנוכח ריבוי התנועה באזור.
הפתרון שהוצע ואושר לבסוף ע"י ראש העיר היה פתיחת חניון ספרא בכיכר העירייה, שנמצא סמוך לעיר העתיקה. על פי ההחלטה, על מנת לצמצם את חילול השבת למינימום, החניון יופעל חינם, המאבטחים שיעבדו בשבת יהיו גויים, ומעליות ואורות לא יופעלו. חברי הפורום קיבלו את החלטת ראש העיר בהסכמה שבשתיקה.
סגן ראש עיריית ירושלים ונציג המפד"ל, דוד הדרי, מדגיש כי ההחלטה לא התקבלה על ידי חברי הפורום, שלא נדרשו להצביע עליה. "קיבלנו את ההסברים של המשטרה על פיקוח נפש ואת הסברי ראש העיר על צמצום חילול השבת בחניון ספרא עד למינימום".
The police request was evaluated in a forum of the city council, in the presence of Rav Neventzal and Rav Simcha Kook. The forum rejected the idea to open the Karta parking, for they felt that it would cause mass Chillul Shabbat, essentially because the Mamilla mall lies above that parking structure, whose opening would entice the mall to open on Shabbat due to greater traffic in the area.
The ultimately approved solution requested by the mayor was the opening of the Safra parking structure in the municiple square, located adjaescent to the Old City. According to this decision, in order to keep the violation of Shabbat to a minimum, the parking structure would be operated free of charge and the security personnel working there would be non-Jewish, and the elevators and lighting would remain off. The members of the forum accepted the decision of the mayor through silent acquiesence.
Deputy mayor of the City of Jerusalem and Mafdal (Religious Zionist) representative David Hadari, emphasized that the decision was not accepted by the members of the forum, who were not asked to vote on it. "We accepted the explanations of the police regarding pikuach nefesh and the explanations of the mayor to try and keep chillul Shabbat in the Safra parking structure to a minimum."
Sorry, sounds really weak to me. Truth be told then, the Chareidim were not just protesting against the police. They were protesting against us - the religoius Zionist community which knew about the plan and silently stood by allowing it to happen. And they were right.
Why should we protest disengagement but not Shabbat? Do we care more about the Land of Israel than the sanctity of Shabbat? Maybe, if we want the Chareidi communities to care more about the things that are important to us, we should start caring - and protesting - over the things that are important to both of us.
2. The tactics. Ahh, the tactics. Why? Why throw garbage? Someone has to sit these people down and explain to them the power of the media, and the damage to frumkeit (and chillul Hashem) that they cause when the give the media pictures like these to beam around the world. Secular media loves nothing more than to show just how Neanderthal-like we all are, and this really doesn't help.
So what should they have done? Not protest? No - they can and must continue to protest. But peacefully. They should have brought a bunch of tables and gemaras, and given shiurim on daf yomi at the entrance to that parking lot all afternoon. They should block the driveway with a long communal minchah. And Shalosh Seudot. And a kumzitz. Until the end of Shabbat.
But just don't throw rocks or diapers. Because then you turn the discussion into one about hatred of Chareidim, and not about shemirat Shabbat.
And that doesn't help anyone or anything - much less the sanctity of Shabbat.