Thousands of Orthodox Jewish boys gathered in Sabbath Square in Jerusalem this Monday afternoon, July 16, to protest proposals to draft members of their community into the Israeli army. The demonstration was organized by the Eidah Chareidis, the independent anti-Zionist rabbinate of Jerusalem.
The boys arrived from directly from school at 5:30 PM. Participating schools included Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avraham Yitzchok, Satmar and Dushinsky. The children wore signs attached to their clothing or hats reading, “”Daddy! Mommy! Save me from falling into the claws of army, civilian or national service!”
Other signs read “Our children will not fall victim to the government's Cantonist decree” – referring to the 19th century czarist Russian practice of drafting young children into the army for life, forcing them to abandon Judaism.
Other signs read, “We have never taken any funding from you and therefore we are not at your mercy. We want neither your honey nor your stinger.” And: “If you will not permit us to live as Jews, we will die as Jews.” And: “When I grow up I will be a soldier in the Torah of G-d.” And: “State of Israel! You will never succeed in uprooting from us 'Hear O Israel!'"
Some of the children were handcuffed to each other with toy handcuffs, to symbolize their willingness to go to jail rather than serve the Zionist state.
Rabbi Yitzchok Shlomo Blau, a representative of the Eidah, opened the gathering by leading the children in reciting Psalms and the “Avinu Malkeinu” prayer. Then Rabbi Chaim Uri Freund led the recital of the Shma. Rabbi S. Blau, principal of the Satmar school, delivered a speech.
The climax of the gathering was a speech by one of the boys, who said, “Even if they throw our fathers into jail or beat them to force them to join the army, we will stand up to the test. We will continue to stand by our religious principles, and we will be observant Jews.”
The children then marched up Strauss Street, turned on Neviim Street and came back down Yishayahu Street.
The demonstration was well-covered in the secular Israeli and world media. However, some media writers misunderstood the demonstration's message. The Associated Press wrote, "The ultra-Orthodox fear assimilation in the secular military and claim they are serving the state by serving G-d in prayer and study." Actually, the ultra-Orthodox do not believe in the state or its army, and do not wish to serve it in any way. Their objection is not to the secularism that currently characterizes the army, but to the concept of an army itself.
The Eidah Chareidis represents the Old Yishuv, the community of Jews who lived in Jerusalem long before there was a Zionist movement. They know better than anyone that Jews enjoyed good relations with Arabs before Zionism, and that the Israeli state and army has only made life more dangerous for everyone. Furthermore, they believe that Jews must live humbly under non-Jewish governments until the coming of the messiah; a Jewish government such as the State of Israel is forbidden. Their only wish is to continue living their lives peacefully, without any interaction with the state.