Israeli city braces for 10,000-strong protest against exclusion of women
Ultra-Orthodox clashed with police officers, calling them Nazis over course of Monday; at least six were arrested or detained for questioning.
More than 10,000 people are expected at a rally in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday to protest the exclusion of women as well as violence against girls and women by Haredi extremists. The rally will begin at 6 P.M., near the Orot girl's school.
The school's arguably most-famous student is Na'ama Margolese, the 8-year-old American immigrant who became a focal point after Channel 2 news broadcast a story Friday night showing her facing a daily gauntlet of abuse from Haredi extremists as she walks to school. The rally was originally slated to take place in the courtyard of the school, but the venue was changed after organizers said Haredi extremists had threatened violence unless the location were changed.
On Monday night, MK Chaim Amsellem (Shas) visited the Margolese family at home and participated in their Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony. Amsellem gave Na'ama a siddur, or prayer book, in which he wrote a dedication: "When you walk to school, an entire nation is behind you."
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul had asked to visit the family for candle-lighting Monday but the Margoleses firmly rejected the request, even after repeated phone calls and text messages from city officials.
Meanwhile, violence continued in Beit Shemesh on Monday as Haredim clashed with police officers and attacked two television news crews. At least six people were arrested or detained for questioning.
The violent scenes in Beit Shemesh on Sunday, when a Channel 2 news team was attacked by 200 Haredi men, were repeated on Monday.
On Monday morning, dozens of ultra-Orthodox men surrounded police officers and municipal inspectors who came to remove, for at least the third time this week, a sign on Hazon Ish Street, in the Haredi neighborhood Nahala Vemenuha, ordering men and women to use separate sidewalks. The men tried to prevent the sign's removal, calling the police officers "Nazis" and dancing around them in circles.
A few hours later a crew from Channel 10 was attacked as it tried to film a piece on education in the city. Police officers dispatched to the scene after the news team called for help clashed with dozens of Haredim. Some of them lay on the ground in an attempt to keep other members of the group from being arrested. Three people were taken into custody.
About an hour later, a second television crew was attacked as it filmed the controversial sign. The Channel 2 camera crew was pelted with eggs, and a videographer was physically assaulted. Police officers sealed off the street and found themselves facing around 300 Haredim who shouted at them to leave, threw rocks at them and set dumpsters on fire. Officers detained three suspects for questioning.
Like the social protests of the past year, the rally scheduled for tonight came together spontaneously on Facebook. Within hours of the airing of the television segment, Beit Lessin Theater actor Tsviki Levin started a Facebook group called, in Hebrew, "1,000 Israelis are going to Beit Shemesh to protect little Na'ama." He soon linked up with the Be Free Israel (Israel Hofshit) movement, and additional organizations such as Hitorerut Yerushalmim (Wake up Jerusalem) joined them.
Na'ama Margolese, city officials, Tanya Rosenblit - who became a symbol of the cause when she recently refused to sit in the back of a public bus carrying Haredi passengers - and Zion Sultan, a local journalist and activist against religious coercion, will take part in lighting the Hanukkah menorah on stage.
Buses will be chartered, using donated funds, to bring participants from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Sharon region. Organizers say Meretz and Kadima are expected to charter additional buses for their respective party workers.
Israel Hofshit said politicians would not be allowed to address the rally or to conduct political activities, in keeping with the request of Beit Shemesh residents who say they don't want the event to become political.
A group of Haredi residents of Beit Shemesh led by Rabbi Dov Lipman has asked to take part in the rally. Lipman has requested permission to address the crowd.