Beit shemesh haredi school - Gili Cohen-Magen - August 29 2011
Parents convening in Beit Shemeshafter ultra-Orthodox men staged a sit-in at the national religious school. Photo by Gili Cohen-Magen
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More than 4,000 people say they will attend a march in Beit Shemesh this week to protest the exclusion of women and girls from the public sphere and the increasing Haredization of the city. The day, time and venue of the event have yet to be announced.

A number of times in recent weeks girls and women in Beit Shemesh have been been cursed and spit at, and even had rocks thrown at them, by members of the city's ultra-Orthodox community who claimed their dress was immodest.

A sign put up in the city center under the aegis of the municipality instructs women to use separate sidewalks and "walk quickly, without drawing a crowd and without talking to each other."

But it is the tears of a 7-year-old girl, broadcast on Channel 2's Friday-night news magazine this weekend, that is galvanizing thousands; only two days were needed for those 4,000 people to confirm their attendance at the march. Na'ama, who lives with her religiously observant family in Beit Shemesh, is afraid to walk the 300 meters between home and school because of the violence she has faced from Haredi men who say her clothes are too revealing.

After the broadcast, Beit Lessin Theater actor Tsviki Levin started a Hebrew-language Facebook group - "1,000 Israelis are going to Beit Shemesh to protect little Na'ama." He was overwhelmed by the response.

"I started the group in Na'ama's name, but she's just a symbol of something much greater and more dangerous to all of Israeli society," Levin said last night. "There are hundreds of girls and women like her, who pay the price of exclusion, threats and humiliation from extremist Haredi factions that are dangerous to the State of Israel."

Levin said the marchers do not intend to enter the city's Haredi neighborhoods or cause a provocation; rather, thousands of people will probably walk through the streets, holding lit candles "to illuminate the darkness" that is plaguing Israeli society, he says.

According to Levin, the aim of the protest is to mobilize Israel's "sane and democratic majority."

"No one is deluding himself into thinking that this protest, whatever its size, can stop the next Haredi from spitting on a girl tomorrow; instead, the purpose is to raise the consciousness of Israel's moderate and democratic majority," Levin said.

According to Levin, this majority "includes religious, secular and even Haredi people who believe that the principle of democracy is sacred above all and that we must protect freedom and the hope that we still have a democratic state that wants to remain so for many more years."

Levin added: "We're spitting distance from an existential threat to the state. It starts with spitting at a 7-year-old girl and continues with laws of darkness and silencing in the Knesset."