In what appears to be the worst outburst of ultra-orthodox Jewish violence in Jerusalem in nearly two years, thousands of the city’s Haredim community took to the streets on Saturday to clash with police over the opening of a parking lot by the city municipality to give visitors a place to park their cars while visiting the city on the Sabbath. Shouting “Shabbos, Shabbos”, and with many throwing rocks and other missiles at a large police contingent, the protestors created a mayhem that resulted in six policemen being lightly injured along with dozens of protestors, some of whom fought violently on a day when observant Jews are supposed to be at prayer and rest.

The police were so fearful that the mob would storm the city municipality building (where the parking lot is located) that they had to resort to using water cannon to disperse the rioters, as well as put out several fires to garbage dumpsters after the end of Shabbat. The opening of the parking lot on Shabbat was legally authorized after the city agreed to have it run by a non Jew. The Haredi community had other ideas, however, and the rioting not only involved the area of the parking lot but the ultra-orthodox Meah Shearim neighborhood as well, where most of the dumpster fires were later set.

Seven rioters were arrested on charges of committing a public disturbance (i.e. a riot) and one policeman, who was hit in the head by a rock, had to be hospitalized. The mayhem was the first big public disturbance in the administration of newly elected secular Mayor Nir Barkat, whose office denounced the disturbances on Sunday, and declared that the lot will remain open on the Sabbath. The city officials had been trying to find a solution to the parking problems in the city on the weekends, when thousands of tourists and other visitors come to Jerusalem, especially the Old City. It was agreed not to charge money for the parking, but this apparently didn’t matter to the Haredim, who still consider the lot to be a desecration of the Sabbath, and who had posted ads in religious newspapers beforehand saying to “be prepared for a battle for Jerusalem.”

A small group of secular people held an opposite protest with signs saying “this is not Teheran – the Haredim have no shame!”

The last big Heredim sponsored riot in the Capital occurred when the country’s Gay Rights groups tried to stage a march in the city on International Gay Pride Day.