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Middle east

Police protect women worshippers at Wailing Wall

© AFP

Video by Siobhán SILKE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-11

Israeli police held back thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews as they swarmed the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem on Friday in an effort to drive away a group of women as they prayed at the holy site wearing garments traditionally reserved for men.

Israeli police held back throngs of ultra-conservative Jews as they attempted to drive away a group of liberal women worshippers praying at the sacred Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall, in Jerusalem on Friday, marking a dramatic shift in the way the authorities have handled longstanding tensions between the two factions.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox protesters dressed in traditional dark clothing swarmed the Wailing Wall, throwing chairs and water at the group of women known as the Women of the Wall, before hurling stones at their buses. Two policemen were injured in the fray.

While members of Women of the Wall have previously been detained by police for wearing prayer shawls normally worn by men under the Orthodox tradition, this time the authorities came to their defence, arresting at least three protesters.

The shift in the police’s handling of the issue follows a court ruling last month, which found that the Women of the Wall were not in violation of the law, and should be allowed to pray in the manner they saw fit.

“The new court order has said they can [pray at the Wailing Wall], that police will not arrest them any longer, but now it seems that the ultra-Orthodox protesters will come out en masse to stop them,” said FRANCE 24’s Irris Makler, reporting from Jerusalem.

Standoff at the Western Wall

The issue is at the heart of a long struggle between a secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox minority over lifestyle in a country where institutions such as marriage, divorce and burial are controlled by religious authorities.

Dozens of border policemen formed a cordon to keep the protesters at the site – revered as part of the Biblical Jewish Temple compound – from charging at the approximately 100 women, who were joined by some male supporters as they prayed.

“They’re desecrating the site of our holy temple,” shouted one of the hundreds of Orthodox women who came to protest against Women of the Wall.

Friday’s prayers were the first in weeks in which police avoided any showdown with Women of the Wall, whose members have been detained in the past and charged with disruption for violating Orthodox traditions at a holy site. They are seeking a greater role in prayer ritual.

“I’m seeing signs of progress,” one woman worshipper, Lisa Kainan, said about the police presence at the site.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked former cabinet minister and Jewish leader Natan Sharansky to seek a compromise to permit the Women of the Wall to hold prayers without exacerbating tensions with the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Sharansky has since proposed a formula to widen a separate zone at the Wailing Wall once designated for egalitarian prayer, a suggestion neither side nor the government has yet embraced.

Also spurring Israel’s drive to resolve the dispute is the growing support for the Women of the Wall movement among Jews in the United States, Israel’s main ally.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-10

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