Beit Shemesh victims turn activists

Natalie Mashiach and Hadassah Margolis, recent victims of extremist ultra- Orthodox violence and intimidation, demand gov't intervention.

February 6, 2012 03:01
2 minute read.
Protest against women's exclusion in Beit Shemesh.

Beit Shemesh protest 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )


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Natalie Mashiach and Hadassah Margolis, recent victims of extremist ultra- Orthodox violence and intimidation in Beit Shemesh, drove in a small convoy with other activists to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday to call on the government to tackle the extremist tendencies of sections of the haredi community in their city.

“Can someone in the government wake up and please do something?” Mashiach asked, addressing the press outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We residents are held captive, but we’re not going to give up on our city. Together – secular, traditional, national- religious and moderate haredim – we will not flee. We will fight for our homes and we will fight for our city.”

Mashiach was attacked by dozens of ultra-Orthodox men last month while hanging up flyers for the national lottery. Margolis is the mother of eight-year-old Na’ama, who was subjected to an attack involving spitting and verbal abuse from ultra- Orthodox extremists who objected to the positioning of the girls school she attends close to their neighborhood.

An increasing ultra-Orthodox population in Beit Shemesh, along with limited space for schools and residential construction, has led to tensions between the haredi community and the other sectors of the city in recent years.

This has included a campaign of intimidation waged by haredi extremists against the national-religious Orot Banot elementary girls school, protesting its location next to the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet.

Mashiach continued her address by reading out a list of violent incidents involving haredi extremists that have taken place over the past 10 years.

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein arrived at the protest to express his support and spoke with Hadassah Margolis.

She said that there have been no incidents of spitting and intimidation outside the school since December, but added that non-haredi residents still do not feel safe walking in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, pointing to the attack against Mashiach as an example of ongoing violence.

“This needs to change. We want the government to do something so we will feel safe when we go into these neighborhoods,” Margolis said.

Edelstein told her that the only solution is through police and judicial action, although he admitted that the progress has been slow.

Mashiach interrupted him, accusing the government of doing too little to solve the problem of extremist violence.

“This is my city, where I was born. I don’t understand how the State of Israel can allow this to happen,” she told Edelstein.

“This kind of extremism cannot be accepted in the state,” she told The Jerusalem Post later. “These people’s approach is violent, aggressive, and everything is done with coercion. They force people to do things they don’t want to do; they force people to the Torah, but it’s not acceptable,” she continued.

“This violence has been going on since 2002 and no one has done anything to deal with it. No one lifts up their hand and says, ‘I’m going to deal with it.’ Everyone just chucks [responsibility] to someone else. The mayor [of Bet Shemesh] passes it on to the police, the police throws it to the government, nothing gets done.”

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