In Beit Shemesh, Israel a small town near Jerusalem, religious tensions are reaching a boiling point and it seems as if the government is starting to take notice. What started as a protest against a girls school which opened up adjacent to an ultra-orthodox neighborhood is threatening to ignite a storm around fragile peace between the cities residents.
For months now, dozens of Ultra-Orthodox Jews have gathered around the Orot Banot girls school, in which girls up to 6th grade attend their classes, and spit at them calling them prostitutes and whores. While this has been the work of a few isolated extremists, the tension in the city has grown. This week in Beit Shemesh it seems as if it has reached a boiling point.
On Friday, 7 year old Na’ama Margolis was getting out of her parents car when one of the extremists spit on her and called her awful names for not being dressed sufficiently “modest”. This was all caught on tape and aired nationally on Israeli TV. It turns out you don’t have to just be from Beit Shemesh to care about the neighborhood.
The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu vowed at a cabinet meeting on Sunday that women will not be treated as second class citizens in Israel.
He told the cabinet:
“We shall not let radical groups hurt women’s rights in the public sphere, which must remain open and safe for all,”
The mayor of Beit Shemesh, himself an ultra-orthodox Jew, has been hesitant to use the powers of his office to send in the Beit Shemesh police force to help the girls for fear of a violent backlash. Israel’s Public Security Minister has threatened to have the mayor replaced by an appointed representative of the national government if he doesn’t move to protect women in all spheres of public life.
Over the last few days the extremists have become more emboldened, attacking two separate news crews and a police officer for trying to document gender segregation in the neighborhood.
Watch a video of the extremists of Beit Shemesh fighting in front of the girls school.