At a hearing of the High Court of Justice on Sunday, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch instructed the police to remove separation barriers erected in the streets of Mea Shearim designed to prevent male and female intermingling during Succot, and also ordered the police to remove private security personnel enforcing the gender separation.

The decision comes following a petition filed by Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azariah on Friday, demanding that last year’s High Court ruling which affirmed that gender separation is illegal, be enforced.

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“Succot has arrived and once again there is illegal segregation [of men and women],” Beinisch stated during the hearing. “There has been a takeover of public places by a minority in the neighborhood… The private security personnel and the canvas partitions should be removed now and beginning at the end of Succot and from then on, there should be no segregation in Mea Shearim [in the future].”

As has occurred in recent years, thoroughfares in the Mea Shearim neighbourhood have been separated between male and female pedestrians during this year’s Succot festival to prevent intermingling, particularly during the evening when traditional Simchat Bet Hashoeva parties are staged. Thousands of people descend on the area every year to watch and participate in the celebrations conducted by different yeshivot and hassidic groups, and communal leaders have sought to separate men and women during this period.

“The court established today once again that segregation in the public domain on the basis of gender is illegal and has to be acted against,” said Azariah in response to the decision. “There is a long way to go until we reach equality between men and women, but… if Rosa Parks succeeded in the racist period of U.S. history in the 1950s, then we in the democratic State of Israel of 2011 will also succeed.”

During the hearing, lawyers from the State Attorney’s Office said that the situation was not ideal, but that resolving it was “a process” in which progress was being made year by year.

Beinisch rejected this, saying that the trend appeared to be one of increasing radicalization. “It began with buses, continued with supermarkets and arrived in the streets. It’s not going away, just the opposite,” she said.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Nissan Shaham said that he agreed the situation was shocking. “Nevertheless, it needs to be seen proportionately; we’re talking about a few tens of meters and next year it will be even better.”

Haredi activist Shraga Neiman claimed that the barriers were erected for only three or four hours in the evening at the time of the simchat bet hashoeva parties and were not designed to separate men and women, but instead to allow a clear path for people to gain access to the various yeshivot and synagogues which are otherwise blocked by the large numbers of passers-by.

That would be fine, said Azariah, if the partitions were not two meters high and did not include canvas curtains and private security personnel instructing people where to walk.

“In the public domain there is one law for everyone,” she told the Jerusalem Post. “If people want to be extreme in their own homes then that’s fine but the if this radicalization spreads to public places it is unacceptable.

“This kind of separation is humiliating for women. Whether it’s being confined to the back of the buses or being told to use alternative streets, and it is women who are having to deal with the take-over of religion by extremists. Moreover, women in the Haredi community are afraid to speak out for fear of being ostracized and this is why the state needs to step in.”

Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz welcomed the High Court’s intervention saying that the police are obliged to enforce the law to prevent the imposition of the values of a “radical and violent minority” on others.

“This segregation is illegitimate, discriminates against women and degrades them and therefore has to be fought so that the law will be enforced and segregation will disappear,” she said.

A statement made by the Jerusalem Municipality in response to the court’s hearing said that the municipality opposed gender segregation and would assist the police to enforce the law.

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