Beit Shemesh Bnot Orot protests 52I.
(photo credit: Atara Beck)
A month after haredi (ultra- Orthodox) extremists who harassed and spit at young girls on their way to school in Beit Shemesh sparked counter protests and outrage across the country, parents of students at the Bnot Orot elementary girls school said that a sense of security has returned to both the students and parents.
Parents praised the police on Tuesday for a wave of arrests that have stopped the daily protests outside the school, but slammed the courts for quickly releasing the suspects rather than keeping them in prison for the duration of the legal process.
“The police are doing their job of arresting people, now we need the court to do their job of keeping them in, of showing them they can’t do something, get arrested, and then get out the next day,” said Hadassa Margolese, whose daughter, Na’ama, was the subject of a Channel 2 report that triggered an uproar across the country last month. The report showed her crying in terror on the way to school because of the haredim protesting outside.
The Orot school has raised the ire of the haredi community since it opened in September, who claim that the national-religious school is located in “their” neighborhood.
“There is no deterrent for these people,” said Beit Shemesh resident Alisa Coleman, who escorted girls from the bus stop to the school gate when the haredi protests were a daily occurrence. Coleman added that she was recently spat at, and police arrested the man but he was released.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited the Orot school on Tuesday and met with administrators and teachers. “My feeling is that the feeling of security is much better than it was before,” he said outside the school. “I will not allow any disturbances to the law. [We will stop] every incidence of disturbing the peace or discrimination against women or every incident of spitting or throwing anything.”
“This will not be Iran... People here will behave the way they should in a free democratic country,” he added.
There are still signs at the entrances to some of the more haredi neighborhoods which demand that female pedestrians wear modest dress, something officials vowed would end last month. Aharonovitch said the removal of the signs was the municipality’s responsibility.
Natali Moshiach, who was brutally attacked by 15 haredim last week in Ramat Beit Shemesh while hanging posters in the neighborhood, also came to the school to exchange harsh words with Aharonovitch. The men surrounded her car, broke the windows and threw rocks and bleach at her.
“I want to know why there was not enough manpower,” she said. “It took the police so long to get to me, and when they came they were too scared to go after them.”
“The haredim weren’t even scared enough to leave when the police came,” she added.
“How can this issue ever be solved if they’re not afraid of anything?” Aharonovitch answered that it was impossible to have a police officer stationed every two meters.
Parents in Beit Shemesh who reflected on the past month said things had greatly improved in their neighborhoods, but they know that they still have a long way to go toward stopping the spread of haredi extremism.
The first test will be a local committee hearing to change the plans for the new Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel to mixed housing rather than haredi housing, which will take place in February.
“I don’t feel we’ve won yet, I feel we’re on our way to solving the problem,” said Margolese. “My daughter feels safe at school now, so that’s a good thing.”
“But we want to feel safe on the streets on Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh. We want to feel like we can go anywhere, dressed however we’re dressed, and not be attacked,” she added.
“This is a microcosm of the whole country,” said Coleman. “The country shouldn’t give in because they are worried about people rioting, and we won’t give up until people can walk safely.”
Coleman, an olah from England, said the high number of Anglo residents in Beit Shemesh was one reason the neighborhood has been able to launch a successful campaign to stop the spread of haredi extremism. Living in the Diaspora not only taught them how to stand up for their community, but also how to live in mixed communities with different types of people, she said.
“We won’t give up because we grew up in countries where people hated Jews,” she said. “We’re not fighting against anyone, we’re fighting for the right to live here.”