Click HERE for the RRFEI bulletin: 'Reform and Conservative Movements write the Police Inspector General'
Click HERE for the original Hebrew version of the letter below
14 Sivan 5776, 20 June 2016
Chief of Staff Ronnie Alshich
Israel Police Inspector General
Via Bar Lev 1 Jerusalem
Re : Insufficient police preparations for egalitarian mincha prayers at the Western Wall
We are writing to alert the Police regarding serious deficiencies that occurred last Thursday, 10 Sivan 5776, 16 June 2016) at the Western Wall while the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform Movements were holding an egalitarian mincha service in the public plaza.
We did not veil our intention to gather at the Western Wall nor did we veil our intention to exercise our right to pray there. In an attempt to prevent our worship, the Minister of Religious Affairs asked the office of the Legal Advisor to look into whether our worship could be prevented, but, as expected, the Legal Advisor informed him that there were no grounds for preventing the service from taking place in the main plaza. A petition was submitted to the Supreme Court in this matter on behalf of the Association of ‘Justice’ and that petition was also rejected. The police were aware of all of these realities, and to remove any doubt (about whether the police were aware of these realities), Masorti Movement Chair Attorney Yizhar Hess (undersigned) phoned Police David Commander Doron Turgeman to update him regarding the planned worship, and they had a substantive conversation.
Our worship included approximately 400 men and women from all over the country. The protesters included approximately 120 yeshiva students. The students rioted. They shouted, blew whistles, cursed, spat, and threw water bottles. At moments, the riot erupted into serious violence, including punching and throwing stones. There was also an obscene act (in which someone cupped the buttocks of a female worshipper who is part of the military preparatory program). The event videos and media reports in Israel and abroad depict an atmosphere of worsening violence.
It was certainly possible to anticipate that tempers would flare. We were, therefore, shocked at the lack of sufficient police presence and the lack of police capacity. The police forces dispatched a small number of border guards — deaf individuals not in uniform — tasked with separating the factions. They tried, without success, to prevent the Ultra-Orthodox students from harming the worshippers. There were many police officers in the vicinity, but they did not intervene; they did nothing. It was as if there was a message that if worshipers wish to exercise their legal right to pray in egalitarian fashion without a mehitza, they will be punished for doing so. Please note that this was one-sided violence. There could have been, God forbid, serious casualties, although there were, in fact, only light injuries. The Israeli police must prepare accordingly, and not stand idly by when emotions flare.
This constitutes a serious operational failure, and perhaps even a basic flaw in understanding the role of the police. It is the duty of the police to protect the beleaguered and maintain public order. In this instance, the police did neither. This is particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that just two days earlier, the police allowed Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to engage in a prayer of defiance by placing a mehitza in Ezrat Yisrael (the section designated for egalitarian worship) and conducting morning prayers there.
Honorable Police Commissioner, we ask you to please investigate the incident to ensure that deficits of this kind do not recur. We are law-abiding. In the coming months we plan to hold regular egalitarian worship in the public plaza at the Western Wall. We expect that the Israeli police will stand guard to avoid anything happening to worshipers who wish to enjoy the freedom of worship to which they are entitled to by law, and in accordance with case law and the spirit of the law.
|Yizhar Hess, Attorney at Law
Executive Director of the
Masorti (Conservative) Movement
|Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Attorney at Law
Executive Director of the
cc: Avichai Mandelblit, Attorney at Law, State Attorney General