A group of female activists and elected officials has petitioned the court against Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco for not removing the barriers that were put up by haredim to keep women out of Mea Shearim during Sukkot. The petition charged that Mea She’arim has become “extraterritorial” for the police, and that officers are not fulfilling their duty to enforce the law there.
Plese see update below.
High Court to discuss barriers set up to keep women out of Mea She’arim
In previous years, men and women alike flocked to Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood during the Sukkot holiday. This year, extremists forced a change
By Yair Ettinger • Ha’aretz
Mea She’arim, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood of Jerusalem, saw far fewer female visitors this Sukkot than in previous years, and apparently fewer visitors overall, after a growing number of Hasidic groups gave in to extremists and celebrated the mid-Sukkot festival of Simhat Beit Hashoeva more modestly than in the past.
But both the extremism that was forced on Mea She’arim residents and the tolerance police have ostensibly shown toward it have now reached the High Court of Justice: A group of female activists and elected officials has petitioned the court against Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco for not removing the barriers that were put up to keep women out during Sukkot.
The petition charged that Mea She’arim has become “extraterritorial” for the police, and that officers are not fulfilling their duty to enforce the law there.
The court is to hear the petition this morning, along with another petition, filed by the Jerusalem branch of the Meretz party and a group of women students who want to hold a march down Mea She’arim’s main street to protest gender separation in the quarter.
Every year during Sukkot, Mea She’arim’s main street is blocked to traffic in the evening as pedestrians flock to its synagogues and study houses to celebrate Simhat Beit Hashoeva, an ancient festival dating back to Temple times.
But this year, a barrier at the junction of Mea She’arim and Shivtei Yisrael streets, set up to prevent women from entering the area near the Toldot Aharon yeshiva, reminded people that not everyone was invited.
Compared to the previous three years, when dozens of security guards stood at numerous checkpoints to make sure that men and women remained separated for almost the whole length of the street, the current arrangement could be considered liberal. But this year, the issue heated up, because extremists tried to impose new and even more stringent rules of modesty that infuriated Haredim and non-Haredim alike.
One demand was to close the street hermetically to all women pedestrians. But following a meeting with police, a group calling itself “the committee for the purity of the camp” (also known as the “modesty patrols”) was forced to publish a statement promising that “all streets will be open to women, too.”
Synagogues and study houses, however, were open only to women who belonged to the community affiliated with each institution.
The petition was submitted by Jerusalem city councilwomen Rachael Azariya of the Yerushalmim faction and Laura Wharton (Meretz), along with other Jerusalem activists. It asked the court to order the police to enforce the law in Mea She’arim and prevent “the placement of fences separating men and women in public spaces, which gravely impairs human dignity, liberty, equality, property rights and freedom of movement.”
The petition cited incidents that show the neighborhood’s growing extremism, including physical attacks on public officials who visited it, such as Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), MK Yaakov Katz (National Union) and MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), as well as attacks on water company employees and Egged buses.
“Most of those hurt by this violence are neighborhood residents, virtually all law-abiding people who want to live their lives peacefully,” the petition said.
The petition also noted that the neighborhood has long hosted events that attract large crowds, but “until very recently, no one dared close the streets, place private guards at the entrances and sort pedestrians according to gender: women to the narrow sidewalks, well hidden by heavy cloth fences, and men in the middle of the street.”
But Yoel Krois, a representative of the extremists, told Haaretz, “The police won’t remove the barriers. Today there are barriers everywhere. The Toldot Aharon Hasids have the right to set up barriers.”
Update 9:55 am CDT [Hat Tip: Seymour.] ––
High Court: No sidewalk gender segregation
Judges forbid separation between men, women in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim, allows women to march in haredi neighborhood in protest of discrimination. Ruling 'step in struggle to ensure public space open to all,' petitioner says
Kobi Nahshoni • Ynet
The High Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled against separation between men and women on the sidewalks of Jerusalem's haredi Mea Shearim neighborhood. The court also disallowed the positioning of "modesty guards" from the neighborhood committee to enforce the separation.
In addition, the court ruled, women will be allowed to hold a protest march in the neighborhood on Wednesday in protest of the discrimination between men and women. The Jerusalem Police was ordered to allow and guard the procession.
The court was asked to address the issue after extremists in the area tried to illegally enforce separation between men and women during Sukkot.
About a fortnight ago, the Eda Haredit faction proposed blocking Mea Shearim's Mordechai Street to women to prevent men from being near them, but following protest from women's organizations and police demands, the leaders of the community said the road would not be blocked to women.
On Monday, two City Council members petitioned the High Court on the issue. Their representative, Attorney Aviad Hacohen, said that despite assurances from the Eda Haredit, screens to separate men from women had been set up and "guards" positioned to enforce the separation.
The State, in its response Tuesday morning, said there was no place for "pirate" separation in public spaces such as streets, and promised it would prevent this and forbid "guards" from operating in the area. The court accepted the State's announcement, which supports the petitioners.
'Men get entire street'
Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria (Tnuat Yerushalmim) said the court's ruling meant there should be no separation in any public space in the State of Israel. "Any such separation is illegal," she said, "which means that all sorts of unspoken agreements made with the haredi community will not happen again. This is another stage in the struggle to ensure that public space in Israel is open to men and women alike, just like the struggle against separation on buses."
The petition was submitted by ELLA-Israeli Feminist Group, Azaria and Laura Wharton (Meretz), who is also a Jerusalem City Council member. They demanded the police stop the separation immediately throughout Jerusalem and especially in Mea Shearim, protesting police lethargy in acting against it.
The two petitioners related their own experience when they tried to pass the road in a mixed group. "The women were asked to go to a narrow sidewalk, which hardly had space to pass," they said. "The men were given the center, with the entire width of the road."
When they refused, they said, they were physically and verbally assaulted until they left. At the time, they said, police were present but did nothing.
Ronen Medzini contributed to this report.