A man arrested on Monday for incitement after passing a Torah to a member of Women of the Wall at the Western Wall, said he was brutalized by an usher and then refused medical treatment and legal representation by police.
Charlie Kalech, a 48-year-old Jerusalem businessman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he was wrongfully arrested and denied his civil rights by police following a melee sparked by the Torah exchange, during which he and another man, Alden Solovy, 58, were beaten by ushers.
Kalech said he was holding the Torah while sitting in the men’s section during a minyan at approximately 8 a.m. when, by prearrangement, a member of Women of the Wall opened a gate to the fence separating the men and women and asked for the Torah.
“I gave it to her and she walked back to the women’s side and closed the gate, and the women continued with their service for 10 to 15 minutes with no disturbances,” he said.
Rabbi Susan Silverman, a Women of the Wall member who was present during the incident, said on Monday that the exchange was planned in advance, adding that it has been at least 20 years since a woman held a Torah at the Western Wall.
The trouble began, Kalech said, when a group of six-to-10 men, who claimed they worked at the Western Wall as ushers, barged through the minyan and told Kalech and other men to move as they made their way to the women’s side to retrieve the Torah.
“They forcibly walked past us and told us to move,” he said. “I told them if they want to get through, call the police. Why should we move for you? Who are you?” At this point, the group of men started pushing those in his minyan, Kalech said.
“One big guy who was two heads taller than me forcibly took me by my arm to move me, then by the throat and chest, and pushed me with such force that I fell backwards and hit my head on the stone floor,” he said.
Kalech, who took pictures of the altercation with his phone, said the group then opened the gate to take the Torah.
Seconds later, Alden Solovy, a 58-year-old writer and poet in the minyan who also said he was attacked, said an “infuriated” ultra-Orthodox man then joined the fray, while three or four other haredim nearby looked on.
“The infuriated guy came right toward me and I made a decision that he was a threat to people, so when he was approaching I wrapped my arms around him and we both went crashing into the women’s side,” said Solovy. “I became dead weight on the ground under him.”
When Solovy noticed his tefillin were unraveling and asked one of the women to secure it for him, he said the haredi man broke free and attacked him.
“He was standing over me and he stomped on my stomach,” he said.
“At this point I’m on the ground and that’s when the police showed up.”
According to Kalech, the police promptly stopped the group of men who claimed they were ushers, forced them to retreat, and proceeded to protect the women with the Torah.
“So the police not only defended the women, but also facilitated that they could continue to read and dance with the Torah,” he said.
“Only when they finished 20 to 30 minutes later did they return it with police protection.”
Kalech said that after the men concluded their minyan he and Solovy went to the Western Wall police station with his wife, lawyer, and two Women of the Wall witnesses to retrieve Solovy’s ID card, which had been taken by one of the officers, and to press charges against the two men who assaulted them.
Upon returning the ID, he said the officer told the group they would have to go to the Jaffa Gate police station to press charges. However, when they arrived there, Kalech said the police would not allow the attorney or witnesses to come with them.
“We filed two separate complaints against two people, and it was very clear from the pictures in my phone that I took when I was attacked that he was touching me and I was not touching him,” he said.
Solovy was then told he could leave, but Kalech was told he was a suspect and had to remain. When he asked why he was a suspect, he said the officer responded: “Because you passed the Torah to women, and that’s forbidden.”
Meanwhile, despite asking for medical treatment for his head wound twice during the two hours he spent at the police station, Kalech said he was repeatedly denied aid.
After unsuccessfully attempting to contact his attorney, he said the officer in charge allowed him to seek medical attention and speak with his lawyer, but told him he had to return by 4 p.m.
A doctor subsequently confirmed that his head was injured, Kalech said, while Solovy was told he sustained bruises to his liver and kidneys, and was told to return later to ensure there was no internal bleeding.
Kalech said he returned to the police station at 4 p.m. with Women of the Wall head Anat Hoffman, but she was not permitted to join him in the interrogation room. Moments later he said he was arrested.
“When I asked ‘what’s the charge?’ they said ‘disturbance of the public order,’” he said. “But there was nothing illegal about passing the Torah, which the police [on the scene] made clear by protecting the women while they had it; and it was quiet for 10 to 15 minutes after I gave it to them, so it had nothing to do with what I did.”
Nonetheless, Kalech said he was fingerprinted, photographed, and told he could not return to the Western Wall for 15 days. Moreover, he said, police initially refused to return his phone and downloaded images from it without his consent.
“When I asked for the phone back, the captain said, ‘This isn’t America,’ as if I didn’t have any rights here,” he said.
Kalech added that neither of the two men who attacked him and Solovy were arrested as of Tuesday.
Asked to comment about his allegations of false arrest and mistreatment, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld denied that Kalech was unfairly treated.
“The suspect was arrested after causing public disorder at the Western Wall and violating the strict rules of the holy site,” he said. “He received medical treatment and a lawyer according to police procedures.”
Rosenfeld said an investigation has been opened into the men who attacked Kalech and Solovy. “Police are looking into what took place during the entirety of the incident,” he said.