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It’s not just about Beit Shemesh

The Supreme Court's ruling against no-go zones for women is a call for action throughout Israel
Illustrative. Ultra-Orthodox Jews stand in front of a sign that asks women not to loiter there, in Beit Shemesh, on December 26, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90/File)
Illustrative. Ultra-Orthodox Jews stand in front of a sign that asks women not to loiter there, in Beit Shemesh, on December 26, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90/File)

Beit Shemesh has been in the headlines for several days since the Supreme Court ruled that all eight signs telling women how to dress and where they can walk, hanging in Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh, must be removed. This ruling was part of a long-standing lawsuit against the municipality by five women from the city: Nili Phillip, Dr. Eve Finkelstein, Miriam Zussman, Miri Shalem and Rachely Schloss, with the representation of attorneys Orly Erez-Likhovski and Riki Shapira of IRAC.

As I sat in the courtroom last week during the hearing, listening to the discussion, I realised how important and clear the statements made by the Supreme Court judges Hanan Meltzer, Uri Shoham and David Mintz were — and how monumental this case is.

Judge Meltzer declared: “The State of Israel cannot allow any street to be closed off to women.”

“To tell women how to dress and where to go in a public space is against the Basic Law of a person’s right to honour and freedom .”

Removing exclusion sign Ramat Beit Shemesh 11 December 2017 (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

Extremists work by fear and lawlessness, the Supreme Court has deemed all the signs that tell women how to dress and where to go, illegal. This is a clear precedent for every city battling this phenomenon.

Those who claim that this struggle is unique to Beit Shemesh and will not happen anywhere else are wrong. The struggle for public spaces is the same in the whole country. Today it is in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem tomorrow it will be Ashdod and Arad. This phenomenon will continue to grow, creating more tension and division between different segments of the population. It will reach other places if we do not eradicate the phenomenon now. Hanging such signs attempts to create a space ruled by extremists and legitimizes violence and humiliation towards women. We will protect our rights to walk the streets with dignity and in safety.

There must be no place in the country that women are afraid to enter, where, if they do, they may be subject to verbal and physical harassment. The issue here is not one of religion or sensitivity. It is about power, control and territory. We cannot allow public spaces to be ruled by extremists, thugs and bullies. Giving in to their existence with a “well, we tried but we can’t take them down” attitude will result in no-go areas in the public space. This condones and rewards lawlessness.

Beit Shemesh municipal workers take down “modesty” signs in the city on December 11, 2017. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90

We must stop this phenomenon both for ourselves and our children.

The Supreme Court has ruled, now it is time for the rule of law to be enforced,and it is the municipality’s responsibility to make sure the signs come down and stay down.

About the Author
Alisa Coleman has a Speech Sciences (Hon) degree from University College London .Alisa became a leading activist to combat extremism in Bet Shemesh .
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