Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox district in the city of Beit Shemesh are breaking their silence and, for the first time, commenting on the row sparked by the exclusion of women
in their neighborhood.
In an official statement issued by senior officials, who are responsible for the community's official stand, they renounce violent acts committed by haredi zealots but blame the media for the recent radicalization.
According to the statement, issued for the "general media" and obtained by Ynet, "Marginal events, which individuals in the margins of the camp are responsible for, are being presented as the actions of the entire haredi public living in the city.
"We condemn any type of violence, but we also condemn the media's wild attacks… The press is initiating intentional provocations in a bid to ruin the reputation of the residents, who are calm, quiet and tolerant people, living their lives according to their faith.
"In some cases, media crews initiated the arrival of immodest women to the neighborhood in order to inflame the situation and reach 'media achievements'. They will pay the price in the conventional ways."
As for the segregation sign placed once and again near the synagogue area, even after being removed by the municipality, the letter states: "If it only depended on the women – they would exclude themselves from the synagogue area out of their own free will.
"The haredi district's women stand behind the sign – which has been in the place for more than a decade – just as much as the neighborhood's men, and are proud of it.
"Due to the wild media attack, the municipality decided last night in a forced move and without any legal justification, to remove the sign…
"The neighborhood's residents and activists declare that these signs – which were placed out of respect for women and due to the fact that Judaism orders a separation between men and women in the public sphere – will be placed against and again and again and again…
"A media and police war against this sign will lead to similar signs being placed next to every synagogue across the city."
At the end of the statement, its writers clarify that "the haredi public is a quiet public which only seeks to live its life according to its own worldview, and there will be no compromise on this issue.
"The residents of Beit Shemesh's haredi district bought their homes with the purpose of living in a haredi-homogeneous area where they could educate the young generation according to the tradition of our forefathers, which has been passed from generation to generation. No one has the right to prevent them from doing so."
The Beit Shemesh Municipality and the police announced Sunday that 300 to 400 security cameras would be placed across the city in a bid to fight the extremists humiliating women and children.
According to the plan, some of the cameras will be placed near the Orot school for girls, whose students have been the target of violent acts by haredi zealots.
Several television crews, reporters and a photojournalist were attacked in recent days upon arriving at the haredi neighborhood. Five haredi suspects have been arrested by the police on suspicion of assault and causing disturbances.
Beit Shemesh residents who heard about the plan to place cameras expressed their hope that the project would materialize, but those familiar with Mayor Moshe Abutbul's work questioned his intentions.
"Whoever thinks there will really be such cameras is wrong," said Council Member Moti Cohen of the opposition. "A haredi mayor will not install such cameras in the haredi neighborhoods of all places, where all the problems are.
"This move is just for the sake of pretence, and I'm afraid that at this rate we won't be able to live in the city the way many of us would like to."