Women of the Wall accuse police of abandoning them to ‘angry mob’
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Women of the Wall accuse police of abandoning them to ‘angry mob’

Friday clashes at Western Wall were ‘the most grave’ ever, and generated ‘concrete fears over human life,’ liberal Jewish group says

Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Women of the Wall group on Sunday accused the Israel Police of failing to protect its worshipers at the Western Wall on Friday, when scuffles at the holy site with ultra-Orthodox protesters drove the liberal prayer organization to finish its monthly service outside the main plaza.

Women of the Wall on Friday held a special anniversary prayer service, celebrating 30 years since its establishment. Its gathering drew protests from some quarters of the ultra-Orthodox community, with several prominent rabbis calling on students to flock to the Western Wall plaza in order to disrupt the event and demonstrate against their worship.

A spokeswoman for the progressive group told The Times of Israel that several older members had been shoved to the ground by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, adding that the protest was far more intense than those they were used to enduring on a monthly basis. Two worshipers later received medical treatment, the spokesperson said, without elaborating on the extent of their injuries.

“Police should have used all the means at its disposal to protect the Women of the Wall and [safeguard] their right to pray according to their custom at the holy site, but this did not happen, and therefore this marks a very serious failure by the police,” the organization wrote in a letter to the Israel Police.

The letter described Friday’s clashes as “the most grave the Women of the Wall have encountered to date, including serious displays of violence against them, and as a result — for the first time in 30 years, and due to concrete fears over human life — the Women of Wall were forced to stop their Rosh Hodesh prayer and finish it outside the women’s section at the Western Wall.”

The organization said police had been notified in advance of their anniversary and festive service. But law enforcement, “in practice, abandoned the Women of the Wall to the mercy of the bullying behavior of the angry mob that surrounded them and sought to prevent the Women of the Wall, at any cost, from exercising their right to pray at the Western Wall according to their custom.”

In the aftermath of Friday’s skirmishes, police accused some of the supporters who joined Women of the Wall of “deliberately creating friction and provocation” and exacerbating the clashes with the thousands of ultra-Orthodox worshipers who were protesting the group’s presence.

Border Policewomen help members of the Women of the Wall movement leave after attempting to hold monthly prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Women of the Wall flatly denied the charge, and accused police of “neglecting” their safety and siding with the aggressors.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Sunday assailed Women of the Wall, saying the group had to be “kicked out” following the clashes.

On Sunday morning, arriving for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, told reporters: “Police declared it an [illegal] gathering by Women of the Wall. They need to be kicked out. That’s all.”

Asked whether that justified the violence against the group’s members, Litzman quipped: “The violence by Women of the Wall? No.” There have been no credible allegations of violence by members of the organization.

A police spokesman on Friday told The Times of Israel that a group of men and women who arrived at the holy site in support of Women of the Wall decided to hold a mixed-gendered service in the plaza behind the gender-segregated prayer section, “in contrast to the request of the ushers and police that they pray in the women’s section that had been allocated for them.”

Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold monthly prayers as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

That service prompted additional scuffles with numerous male ultra-Orthodox protesters, which the police managed to disperse, the spokesman said.

Women of the Wall director Lesley Sachs flatly denied the Israeli authorities’ version of events, accusing the police of “brazenly lying.”

Sachs said her organization spoke with senior police officials in the days leading up to Friday’s service, telling them exactly where the Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch had ordered them to pray and requesting protection from anticipated harassment “which indeed ended up taking place.”

A spokeswoman for the group said that despite the police claim that there was an area reserved for Women of the Wall in the women’s section, no such cordoned-off section was set up for them on Friday. She accused authorities of “neglecting” their safety.

Police said that extremist protesters also clashed with officers dispatched to the holy site to maintain order. One 20-year-old protester was arrested for attempting to assault a policeman, the spokesperson said.

A statement from the Women of the Wall charged police with “abandoning” them as they endured pushing, shoving and cursing from the thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and women at the site.

Members of the Women of the Wall movement hold Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Ezrat Israel pluralistic prayer ground, after attempting to pray at the Women’s section of the Western Wall as thousands of ultra-Orthodox women protest against them at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, March 8, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The head of the Conservative movement in Israel, Yizhar Hess, tweeted that he was among those assaulted by the ultra-Orthodox protesters, saying his yarmulke and prayer shawl were yanked away from him as demonstrators pushed and shoved him. He was on site to show support for the roughly 800 Women of the Wall worshipers.

“[It was] unpleasant, but anyone who thinks that violence will win is mistaken,” Hess said.

“I think that if entry to the Western Wall plaza on Rosh Hodesh [the first day of the Jewish lunar month] is barred to Haredi youths under 30, violence will be prevented in the future,” he tweeted. “Just saying.”

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