No phone for you! - A new phenomenon is spreading across Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods: Pay phones are being locked with chains on weekends and during religious holidays "in order to prevent Sabbath desecration".
Boaz Atzmon of Shinui, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, says that "At first they used to tie the phone receivers with a standard lock, and then I would come on Saturdays and break the locks. Now they use a special lock that requires electric tools in order to break it, and the regular cutter is of no use."
Atzmon unlocking the phone (Photo: Pierre Turgeman)
"I approached the CEO of Bezeq (Telecommunication Company) and notified him about the phenomenon. He said that it is very serious, but that they do not want to interfere and confront the neighborhood's residents," he adds.
Atzmon also sent a letter to Bezeq's CEO, to Communications Minister Dalia Itzik, and to the Jerusalem District police commander and Jerusalem's mayor, to warn against the "dangers" of the phenomenon.
"Locking public phones on weekends and holidays is completely crazy. It can endanger lives – no one uses a payphone on holidays and during Sabbath unless it's an emergency. If something should happen, such as an accident or a fire, there would be no way to use the phone in order to call for help," Atzmon says.
"It is also a basic coercion of their way of life on ours. The pay phone shown in the picture was photographed at the Haneviim St. intersection, which is open on Saturdays, so even a secular person cannot make a call if he so wishes. Also, tourists passing by this intersection cannot make a call," he adds.
"I intend to go to the police in the next few days and see what they intend to do about this matter. If the police do not want to get into an argument with the neighborhood residents, I will go to court," he concludes.
'We do it because of the Christians'
Nathan Scheider, a resident of ultra-Orthodox neighborhood Me'a She'arim, explains why the locals decided to lock the public phones.
"It's nothing new. It's just that, particularly in Me'a She'arim, there are a lot of Christians who come to the neighborhood and speak on the phone for hours on the Sabbath, and we want to prevent this. As opposed to the seculars, who respect us and are ashamed to come to our area in order to talk on the phone, the Christians stand and talk for hours during the Sabbath, and this is not something we want our children to see."
"However, we do lock phones in borderline areas, where Christians do come to. Like the example of Haneviim St....Only Ultra-orthodox live there, 99 percent. There are two big monasteries there and they come all the time to make phone calls," he adds.
"In every synagogue there are also at least two pay phones, so that one can make a call if something happens. There we don’t lock the phones, of course," Scheider concludes.