Any distant sand storm fills the atmosphere over the central coast of Israel with dust, and the coastal road that runs along Tel Aviv's Mediterranean beaches is no exception.
It's a little worrying for the countless athletes we see walking along it, but right next door, the flea market vendors east of Yekef Street don't let go of their dusters, determined to maintain a minimally dignified appearance for their relics and antiques.
By comparison, their bustle is utterly mundane to other countrymen involved in superior claims and battles.
The Unusual Contest of the Ultra-Orthodox Jews
We left the bazaar and walked towards the houses that occupy the slope of old Jaffa, but we never managed to complete the journey.
Our attention is caught by a black spot formed by a battalion of ultra-Orthodox Jews enclosed by blue metallic barriers and controlled by elements of the local police, dressed in military-looking uniforms and also by soldiers from the IDF – Israel Defense Forces.
We hear spontaneous and stray cries, interspersed by groups other than one or the other Haredim with a leader profile makes a point of launching. We approached, curious, and wasted no time in getting a cursory explanation of such a strange noise from a policeman.
In 1993, during excavations of a work, archaeological remains were discovered in a cemetery in the Andromeda Hill neighborhood.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community became convinced that sacred ancestral tombs were to be found there and mounted an operation to protest against the desecration of the graves, unforgivable in the eyes of Judaism which professes the existence of life after death.
The matter quickly crossed seas and came to the judgment of powerful American Jews. As a result, the Central Rabbinical Congress determined that successive demonstrations be organized.
The Infernizado Project of the Luxury Hotel “Eden”
Several took place in front of the Manhattan home of real estate magnate Aby Rosen, meanwhile accused of, in a team with partner Michael Fuchs, perpetrating the heresy in order to continue with the construction of “Eden”, a luxury hotel with an estimated value of 480 millions of euros.
Two other protests, in particular, stood out for the impressive scale they reached. One concentrated 10.000 Orthodox Jews at the headquarters of RFR (the investor company) at 390 Park Avenue. The other took place in Washington and brought together around 7000 participants.
More or less at the same time, in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, protesting forces that frequently traveled by bus to Tel Aviv were assembled. We saw them come into action in the vicinity of the 3000-year-old cemetery.
Black and White Whispers and Conspiracies
First in expectation, some Haredim get together in small groups. They are dedicated to conspiring among themselves and share expressions of apparent delight that suggest that they have arrived at the ideal plan to beat the challengers.
Others concentrate on the pages of portable logs and rehearse prayer readings that are sure to prove the legitimacy of their convictions.
We notice how they vibrate with reading. And how they summon nearby believers to proudly show them the virtues of the most moving religious passages.
The black hats – borsalinos, fedoras, shtreimels, kolpiks, trilbys – and some kippahs protect us from the sun that breaks the dominant fog but does not hide the pet (straws that fall from the temples) that, with each movement, wave and stroke the full beard.
We notice an obvious predominance of rekels (black suits) but also some kaftans (black suits with gold and blue stripes) that confirm the presence of communities distinct from Judaism, such as Yerushalmi Haredim.
The Religious Appeasement of Rabbi Yithak Weiss
Some time later, Rabbi Yitzhak Tuvia Weiss – leader of the anti-Zionist sect Eda Haredit – arrives curiously by car, despite the fact that the entire area is closed to traffic.
Accompanied by a faithful following, this Rabbi immediately joins the ultra-Orthodox crowd and inaugurates a period of communal prayer. Then he retrieves the protests he unceremoniously conducts.
"We curse the health, family and livelihood of all those who participated in the desecration of these graves." shouts a Haredim already aware of the presence of foreign journalists. "All those involved in the damage to this cemetery and soil will pay with their lives - and these curses have proven real in the past."
After prayer and intimidation, the protesters try to leave the barriers that limit them and force the police cordon to go to the crime scene.
From Prayer to Action: Confrontation with the Police and the Military
When the agents stop them, they get into a physical confrontation and some arrests take place. Not satisfied, they throw stones, bottles and other objects at the police, at that time, already supported by special forces and even by a helicopter.
A Jewish photographer who had previously fraternized with the Haredim records events avidly. But when the protesters are led back inside the fence, he resumes their fellowship and, at the request of the believers, shows them the most impactful photos of the unrest.
Soon after, he approaches us to try to understand where we come from and for which organ we work, concerned with the professional aspect of the photographic material we use and with the possible break of its, until then, undisputed exclusivity.
In a flash, Protestants regain their energy. They resume the verbal charge in chorus and call the IDF police and military “criminals” and “Nazis”. Some elements of Ethiopian ancestry in these forces are even given specific racist insults.
Authorities are ordered to move the demonstration to a public park nearby and the move rekindles the conflict. A higher instruction for the total demobilization of the Haredim.
These return to respond. They burn garbage cans and throw more stones. Two photographers who had arrived in the meantime are hit and one of them bleeds profusely from the head.
The riot escalates, but Israeli police and military agents are used to dealing with far worse problems. fulfill the orders, in three times.
One Apparent Resignation
It remains for Haredim the complaint. Erla Yekter, one of the organizers laments: “These people came here to pray and protest. If there is violence, it is only from the police, not from the Protestants.” And he reinforces his reasons: "people paid for the tombs and now they are going to build on top of them and sell the land they bought".
Months later, the Israeli Antiquities Authority announced the end of excavations, but not only. He had come to the conclusion that the graves in the controversial cemetery had nothing to do with Jewish ancestors.
They had been dated to the Byzantine and Persian eras and, in the tombs, among the human bones, were a jar with a fetus dating from 1800 to 2000 BC and bones of domesticated pigs, offerings that were common among the pagan populations that occupied the present day. territory of Israel.
These conclusions did not convince the Haredim who continued to call for protests. More recently, the bones were transferred to a representative of the Ministry of Religious Services.
The Atra Kadisha sect – another organization responsible for the protest – continued to insist that they were Jews because the dead had been buried according to Jewish custom, with their backs turned and their heads pointing towards Jerusalem.
He also offered to organize a decent funeral for them.