A member of Women of the Wall was attacked by an ultra-Orthodox woman last week during prayers to mark the new Jewish month.
Video of the incident shows the ultra-Orthodox woman trying to strangle Rachel Cohen Yeshurun until other women pulled them apart.
Women of the Wall (WOW) is a multi-denominational feminist organization in Israel whose goal is to secure the rights of women to pray at the Western Wall according to their faith.
For 27 years now, several dozen women gather at the Western Wall to pray at the beginning of the Jewish month.
Like every month, the WOW on Thursday encountered loud resistance by several ultra-Orthodox women who loudly protested against the prayer.
"They do this using protest signs and ear-splitting whistles that they use to disrupt the prayer," said one of the WOW members. "Today, one of them has taken it one step further and strangled one of the members of the organization."
"I felt immense pain in my ears because of the whistling that continued throughout the entire prayer, so I went to ask the protesters to stop blowing their whistles and allow us to pray in peace," recounted Cohen Yeshurun, who is one of the organization's board members. "But that didn't happen. Instead, they pushed me, and one of them took that opportunity to strangle me."
She went on to say that "beyond the personal pain of not being allowed to pray in peace, and beyond the physical pain, I feel that the act of strangling symbolizes the efforts to silence women at the Western Wall."
WOW Director Lesley Sachs asserted that "the fact that the Western Wall rabbi and his representatives do nothing against the ultra-Orthodox protesters who are disgracing the Kotel with their whistles, gives them a 'green light' to increase the level of violence against Women of the Wall, and the attack was a direct result of that."
Illegal body search
Members of the organization also claimed that "the Western Wall rabbi applies any measure possible against them," and said some of them were illegally searched at the entrance to the Western Wall plaza to ensure they weren't carrying any Torah books.
"We live in a world in which Jewish women have to undergo humiliating body searches to prevent them from reading from the Torah, just because the Israeli government allows the most extreme elements to exclude, discriminate against and silence women at the Western Wall," Sachs said.
She argued that "the instruction to subject us to a body search is another step down the slippery slope leading to the creation of a Halacha state. This is an insult to Jewish women, and it seriously violates the principle of gender equality and the freedom of religion each and every Israeli has.
"Body search today and the threat of imprisonment tomorrow will not deter us from continuing the fight for a saner form of Judaism in the State of Israel, one without religious coercion."
WOW say subjecting them to body search is illegal because "according to the law, security guards have the authority to conduct a body search only to protect public security or when there is concern for terror activity," said Orly Erez-Likhovski, the organization's legal counsel. "This is definitely not the case in this situation."
Western Wall rabbi: Efforts made to prevent violence
The office of Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said every effort is being done to separate the ultra-Orthodox protesters and Women of the Wall. Rabinowitz's office further said the protesters who use whistles to disrupt the prayer are asked to stop and that their actions are being documented. Barriers put from the Dung Gate to the Western Wall's security area, the office said, were put there to separate WOW from the ultra-Orthodox protesters.
"After consulting with security officials and with the full coordination of the police, several steps have been taken this morning meant to prevent altercations and disturbances of the peace and—heaven forbid—violence at the Western Wall plaza," Rabinowitz's office said.
"We welcome the success of this activity in preventing violence at the Western Wall, and regret the repeated attempts every month of unnecessary provocation. The prime minister must be given the time to look for an appropriate solution, which would preserve the sanctity of the Western Wall and prevent violence in the plaza."
Last month, the original WOW group and the Center for Women's Justice petitioned the High Court of Justice to rule that they have a right to read from the Torah at the Western Wall plaza and to order the lifting of the ban on bringing private Torah books into the holy site.
The petition also demands the state for compensation for discriminating against them, claiming "the state has sacrificed the right of women to read from Torah books at the Western Wall."
A plan approved by the government in January was supposed to resolve the issue after agreements were reached between the ultra-Orthodox and the liberal movements. Two months later, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the reexamination of the plan after the ultra-Orthodox reneged on the agreements.