Jerusalem – August 9th: Merkaz Hatzolah is a Jerusalem-based organization dedicated to helping Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) teens and young men legally navigate the maze of Israeli military exemptions. A dramatic and unexpected raid by Israeli police on August 8th wreaked havoc on the small office.  Six employees and one 9-year-old boy were arrested. Both the reason for the raid and arrests are unknown and no search warrant was provided prior to the raid. This is the latest incident in a recent string of anti-Haredi raids and violence by Israeli police offices.

Solomon Lefkowitz, official spokesman for Merkaz Hatzolah, issued the following statement:

We strongly condemn the August 8th raid on our Jerusalem office, which was designed to undermine our efforts in assisting Haredi youth in obtaining a military exemption.  The fact that we work within the parameters of the law does not seem important to the Israeli police in particular or the government in general.  Our only crime was working against an unjust conscription law.

At the time of the raid, we were only briefly shown the search warrant and not given a copy, as the law demands, before the police forced their way into our small office.  Protesters assembled in the street outside were beaten by undercover and uniformed police and our office was ransacked, with all of our computers and paper files confiscated.  Six of our activists were arrested without due process of law and 9-year-old boy was detained but later released.

This and other raids against war resisters, in addition to the police brutality we regularly witness at protests, are so common as to be almost routine.

When the police raided the HaPeles newspaper two months ago, arresting 28 of its employees, it made it clear to all what “freedom of the press” means in Israel.  The Israeli government seems intent on quelling the voices of those who wish to assert their rights as conscientious objectors.  Children as young as 9-years-old have been arrested and assaulted and women have often been the victims of excessive force on the part of the police.

All of these measures are aimed at instilling fear in the Haredi public.  When someone comes to our office, the first thing we try to assure them is that we will do our utmost to ensure they and their family don’t suffer too much for trying to obtain a legal exemption.  The police make sure that, no matter what, they will suffer.  The only question is to what extent.  Israel’s government has made it clear.  They will tolerate no dissent from Haredim.  All of this from what is supposedly the Middle East’s only democracy.

Numerous politicians have stated clearly their intent to assimilate us, by force if need be.  The halls of the Knesset have rung with speeches explaining how the Israeli Defense Forces is the primary vehicle for Haredi acculturation into the wider, non-religious Israeli society.  This is ethnocide and it is a crime.

We trust that the One Above will help us to continue our work saving young men from forced cultural assimilation and that, with His help, we will be successful.  The Israeli government should be aware.  We will never give up.