JOURNALISTS and police were roughed up, stones were thrown and refuse bins set alight in the Israeli town of Beth Shemeth yesterday when hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men got stroppy in defence of rules they have imposed to segregate their womenfolk – or chattels as they tend to regard them.
Zealots in the town, according to this report, have been trying to impose strict apartheid rules –including erecting a sign which ordered women to cross a road to avoid walking past a synagogue – and violence erupted when demonstrators gathered in support of segregation.
Images broadcast on Channel Two last week of an ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh spitting at a woman led to his arrest on Saturday night. He was freed by magistrates on Sunday.
The same broadcast featured a religious eight-year-old girl terrified to walk the short distance between her home and school, since she is subject to verbal abuse of ultra-Orthodox men who claim her attire is not sufficiently “modest”.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to crack down on acts of gender separation and ultra-Orthodox violence towards women, and keep Israel “open and safe to everyone”.
Yesterday’s demo also saw slanging matches erupt among religious lunatics and those of a secular bent who object to anti-female discrimination.
Unnamed ultra-Orthodox activists representing the Beit Shemesh community issued a statement in which they spoke out against the scuffles and stoning events … but they blamed it on the media.
We condemn violence in any form and shape, but at the same time condemn the wild incitement of the media that initiates deliberate provocations in order to make the peaceful, quiet and tolerant residents, who live their lives according to their beliefs look bad.
Earlier, at a midnight mass in Southampton, heavy chairs were thrown when a fight broke out among a group who entered St Edmund’s Catholic Church. Booze is thought to have sparked the brawl.
Father Vincent Harvey said the people involved in the fight were not regular churchgoers and he believed they had entered the church part way through the service. He added that the disagreement was between the people involved and not targeted at the congregation.
He said most of the 350 people in the church stayed to hear the rest of the mass, although some, who were “shaken” by the incident, went home.
A Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said three men, aged 24, 27 and 31, were arrested at or near the church at about 1am.
The men, all from Southampton, were questioned on suspicion of affray and bailed pending further inquiries.
Update: And bang on cue, rival groups of Orthodox and Armenian clerics clashed over the boundaries of their jurisdictions inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The BBC has some amazing footage of the violence.
Hat tip: Daz (Israel report), Remigius and Agent Cormac (Southampton report); and Cliff Knoetz (BBC report).