Woman who stripped down to swimsuit at Western Wall is charged with disturbing peace

Maya Benvenisti, 36, staged protest against since-shelved legislation that would have made it a criminal offense to dress or pray ‘immodestly’ at Jerusalem Old City holy site

An activist wears a swimsuit in the women's section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as part of a protest against a bill proposed by the Shas party, February 12, 2023. (Oren Ziv/Flash90)
An activist wears a swimsuit in the women's section at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as part of a protest against a bill proposed by the Shas party, February 12, 2023. (Oren Ziv/Flash90)

A woman who stripped down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in protest of a government bill was indicted Thursday on charges of disturbing the peace.

The prosecutorial branch of the Jerusalem Police filed the charge in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against 36-year-old Maya Benvenisti, according to the Ynet news site.

In February, Benvenisti arrived at the Western Wall fully dressed, and, after entering the women’s section, removed her clothing remaining in just a two-piece bathing suit and sneakers.

The administrators of the holy site request as a rule that all visitors arrive in modest dress, and shawls are handed out to women in clothing deemed too revealing.

After a few minutes, police arrived, detained Benvenisti and brought her to a nearby station for questioning.

According to Ynet, Benvenisti planned her protest well in advance, tipping off photographers and journalists about her intentions to ensure that it was caught on camera.

She reportedly opened a WhatsApp group to inform reporters of her plans, writing that she would be wearing “protest clothing” underneath her regular attire. While Bevenisti wrote that several people would be taking part in the protest, she appeared to ultimately act alone.

Police arrest an activist (center) who protested at the Western Wall on February 12, 2023, by stripping down to a bathing suit. (Oren Ziv/Flash90)

Her strip protest appeared to be in response to a now-shelved bill proposed by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party that would make it a criminal offense, punishable by up to six months in prison or a NIS 10,000 ($2,900) fine, to dress immodestly at the Western Wall or to pray there in a manner not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

At the time, observers speculated that Benvenisti could face charges of “insult to religion,” which could carry up to three years in prison. Those convicted of disturbing the peace can also face up to three years in prison, according to the Israeli penal code.

On the day of Benevisti’s protest, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch, decried her actions.

“We are horrified by the despicable act of provocation this morning at the Western Wall Plaza, which desecrated the holiness of the site and deeply offended the public and worshipers,” Rabinovitch said in a statement. “The Western Wall is a sacred site for every Jew and Jewess. It is not a place for dispute or provocation of any kind.”

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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