Women to protest Mea She’arim gender segregation

Police warn that the closer the marchers go to Kikar Hashabbat, the more potential for violence there will be.

Mea Shearim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mea Shearim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Jerusalem branch of a nationwide university women’s organization is due to hold a march on Wednesday, the eve of Simchat Torah, to protest an enforced separation between men and women on streets in Mea She’arim after the High Court of Justice slightly extended the route of the march over police objections.
During the hearing, the court also extracted a formal statement by the state’s attorney, Osnat Mandel, to the effect that “the state agrees that in an obviously public area such as city streets, it is prohibited to separate on the basis of gender.”
The court heard two petitions on Tuesday, one by municipal councilors Rachel Azarya and Laura Verton and the Jerusalem Movement, and the other by the Jerusalem branch of the campus organization, Aleh, the Meretz Party and its representatives in the Jerusalem City Council.
The petitioners of the first complaint, represented by Attorney Aviad Hacohen, demanded that the police take action to remove the barriers and so-called ushers who were responsible for seeing to it that men and women walked on separate sides of the street.
Both had been stationed during the Succot holiday by selfappointed organizers among the haredi community in Mea She’arim.
The second petition, represented by Yifat Sollel, called on the court to overrule police restrictions and allow the marchers protesting the segregation of the streets to walk along Rehov Strauss as far as Kikar Hashabbat, which marks the beginning of Rehov Mea She’arim. Police had insisted that the marchers go only as far as the Histadrut building on Rehov Strauss, some 200 meters short of Kikar Hashabbat.
On Monday night, in response to the petition by Hacohen, the state informed the court that it intended to hold discussions with haredi leaders to persuade them to voluntarily remove the barriers and the ushers. At the beginning of the hearing on Tuesday, Mandel informed the court that the talks had succeeded and that the barriers and ushers were to be removed immediately.
However, before Hacohen agreed to the court’s suggestion that he withdraw his petition, he demanded that the state make a formal declaration that setting up barriers and ushers in order to impose segregation between men and women was illegal in principle and not only in the specific case at hand.
Mandel cautiously and somewhat hesitantly agreed to make such a statement.
Meanwhile, in the discussion over the march, Sollel explained that some time ago, the petitioners had heard that the haredim planned to separate between men and women in some of the Mea She’arim streets over the Succot holiday and prepared a petition against the move. Meanwhile, the haredim hung posters and in other ways communicated that they did not intend to do so.
After the first day of the holiday, members of Aleh went to see whether the haredim had kept their word. There was no sign of barriers or ushers and, therefore, they did not submit the petition.
The barriers and ushers appeared soon afterwards however and the petitioners decided to hold a protest march instead.
The police, however, warned that the closer the marchers got to Kikar Hashabbat, the more potential for violence there would be. The court agreed to take this into account but also said that the march should be allowed to get as close as possible to the scene of the action they were protesting.
According to the final ruling, the march will take place from 9-10:30 a.m.