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haredi men black hats 311.(Photo by: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Gender segregation barriers in Mea Shearim removed
By JONAH MANDEL
09/28/2010
Haredi leaders acquiesce to state's request to remove barriers; High Court approves women's march in the neighborhood.
Following a petition to the High Court of Justice, representatives of the Eda Haredit removed on Tuesday morning barriers set to separate between men and women in the capital's Mea She'arim neighborhood, and called off the ushers deployed to enforce this gender segregation.

If the ultra-orthodox residents would not have complied with the agreement they reached with representatives of the State Attorney's Office on Monday night, Jerusalem police would have been tasked with enforcing the law that prohibits gender separation in the Israeli public realm.

City councillor Rachel Azaria and others had on Monday filed a petition against Jerusalem police for not enforcing the law that enables equal freedom of movement for both men and women, in the wake of religiously extreme elements in the ultra-orthodox Mea She'arim neighborhood allocating different sidewalks for the different genders, enforced by paid ushers. The haredi neighborhood and the ongoing festivities in its abundant synagogues attract many visitors during Succot.

In her answer to the court, the State Attorney's Office representative Osnat Mandel stated that the separation in the neighborhood was being enforced only over a strip of 15 meters of sidewalk, and only during the late hours of the night, when thousands seek entry to the nearby Toldot Aharon yeshiva. But even such a limited gender separation is illegal, Mandel said, and the “relevant haredi leadership” agreed to accordingly remove all barriers and were doing so on Tuesday.

Following Mandel's response, attorney Dr. Aviad Hacohen, representing Azaria, agreed to withdraw the petition.

In related news, the High Court of Justice on Tuesday ruled that police must enable a women's march in the same Mea She'arim on Wednesday, protesting gender-based discrimination of women in the neighborhood. The petition was filed by the city's Meretz faction, and others, after it seemed as though extreme factors in the neighborhood were planning on barring women from its boundaries. Though the claim was publicly refuted by the neighborhood's leadership, and its falsity was reiterated with street notices (pashkevils), the initial plan to conduct the demonstration was not averted.
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