Sunday, 25 December 2011

Crying and spat on, plight of girl, 7, mobilises Israelis against extremists

Monday 26 December 2011

Matthew Kalman

Thousands of Israelis are expected to march through the city of Bet Shemesh later this week to protest against the treatment of women by ultra-orthodox Jewish extremists, with tensions high after a seven-year-old girl said she had been spat on in the street.

Simmering public outrage over the segregation of women in ultra-orthodox, or haredi, areas erupted into anger after a Channel Two television broadcast on Friday night showed Naama Margolese, a seven-year-old haredi girl from Bet Shemesh, crying after being abused and spat on as she walked home from school.

Hours before the broadcast, women from across the political and religious spectrum met in Tel Aviv to discuss rising intolerance, which has seen them being asked to sit at the back of busses, the removal of women's faces from advertising in Jerusalem, and some streets closed to female pedestrians.

In the film, Naama is seen crying as she holds her mother's hand on the walk to her school. They are both orthodox, dressed in what most people would consider a modest fashion, but her mother wears a skirt that is only knee-length, and sports calf-length boots. Looking closely, you might catch a glimpse of her mother's knees, clad in thick tights.

"Do you want to walk just a little bit?" asks her mother, trying to persuade her to cross the road. "No, no!" screams the little girl.

"Lots of the time they scare me, that I'll get hurt or something like that," Naama told Channel Two. What is it like living in Bet Shemesh, she is asked. "Frightening". Later, the reporter stops an ultra-orthodox man identified as Moshe and asks him if he agrees with spitting at girls in the street.

"Yes, because they don't go modestly," he replies. "It bothers me. I'm a healthy man. It's right to spit on a girl who doesn't behave according to the law of the Torah. A seven-year-old, yes. What's the problem? The rabbis tell us how a woman should behave when she walks in the street and that's how it should be."

A Facebook group launched by the Israeli actor Tsviki Levin minutes after Friday's broadcast had gained more than 8,000 members by yesterday morning.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Saturday, and said law enforcement officials must "act aggressively against violence against women in the public sphere.

"Extremist groups cannot be allowed to infringe on the rights of women in the public sphere, which must remain open and safe for everyone," Mr Netanyahu said.

Israeli police said they had arrested one man interviewed in the Channel Two programme who admitted to spitting at women he felt were not dressed in a modest manner.

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