Veterans of the original paratrooper unit that liberated Temple Mount during the Six-Day War were prevented from praying at the Western Wall by private security on Friday.
These some fifty veterans of the Israeli paratroopers and active combat units fought the Jerusalem battles of the 1967 war, defeating the Jordanian forces.
The security guards are employed by The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which oversees matters related to the site and is currently headed by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who serves as the Rabbi of the Western Wall.
Rabinovitch is an Orthodox rabbi, while the veterans who were prevented entry arrived to support Women of the Wall
- a feminist Jewish group which encompasses all Jewish denominations and struggles for the rights of non-Orthodox Jews wishing to pray at the Western Wall alongside other Jewish people. Women of the Wall is currently headed by Anat Hoffman
, and has a custom of holding a communal prayer at the start of every new Jewish month.
The veteran paratroopers and soldiers came carrying four Torah scrolls and held signs saying “The Kotel was liberated for all, men and women” and “We support the Western Wall Deal.”
Since Western Wall regulations do not allow Torah scrolls to be brought into it, the security guards asked that those army veterans holding Torah scrolls be kept aside.
During the conversation between the guards and the veterans, the veterans responded by saying that “The paratroopers only march forward” and that “The main thing [in life] is not to be afraid,” refusing to turn around or to compromise.
Women of the Wall stated that a haredi passerby shouted at the veterans “What do you and the Kotel have to do with each other anyway? It was the master of the universe that liberated the Western Wall, not you!”
“The Kotel in the way it is [managed now] does not represent me,” said veteran paratrooper Michael Lanir, formerly of the 66th Division, which liberated the Kotel under the command of the late Yossi Yupa.
“I hope that the Western Wall will no longer be overrun by an extremist minority that had claimed it as if they own it,” said Yupa.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation denounced what they claimed to be “an unworthy statement spoken by a random visitor” and claimed to have, alongside all Israelis, nothing but respect and admiration for the veteran paratroopers.
“However we also regret the attempt this [Friday] morning to cause provocations at the Western Wall,” the group continued. “In contrast to what was stated, the veterans were allowed to pray with the other worshipers, men and women.”
The group also stated that, out of respect for the veterans of the Six-Days War, the security guards ignored existing regulations and allowed them to enter with the Torah scrolls.
While women are expected to pray in Orthodox Jewish practice, the issue of to what extent female Jewish agency is desired has been a matter of debate and struggle. While Reform Jewish practice promotes female rabbis and cantors and women reading the Torah, Orthodox Jewish practices espouse that women enjoy unique roles in Judaism which are different from formally male-only roles.
In late June, the Knesset froze a plan
to create an egalitarian section at the Western Wall, which caused a major rift between Israel and diaspora Jewry.
In response to the news about how the original paratroopers who fought the Six-Day War were barred from the same Western Wall they fought for, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, said: “The event is, in essence, the story of how haredi [values] have seized control of the Western Wall.”
Kariv, who was present at the event, also said that “This is the direct result of the lax attitude of the prime minister facing the rampage of the haredi take-over of the Western Wall.”
“The Western Wall belongs to the entire people of Israel [meaning Jewish people everywhere] and, together with those who liberated it, we will continue to fight for its liberation,” Kariv said.