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‘Provocation’?! J’Accuse!

Women of the Wall worshipers were viciously attacked by an organized mob on Friday -- blaming us is the height of cynicism

The Israeli Police made an official statement that Women of the Wall “caused provocation” at the Western Wall on Friday morning. I am speechless – and angry – at the absurdity and blatant untruth of such a statement. Fortunately, the prophet Isaiah has already articulated my reaction perfectly:

Ah, Those who call evil good and good evil; Who present darkness as light and light as darkness; Who present bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter! Ah, those who are so wise— In their own opinion, so clever— in their own judgment…those who champion injustice.” (Is. 5:20-22).

To anyone who was present at the Kotel on Friday morning, and to anyone privy to the facts, the police’s claims are not just ridiculous but shameful. In the days leading up to the Rosh Hodesh prayer gathering, anticipating tumult, WOW contacted the police multiple times and requested protection. We cited widespread incitement precipitated by hateful posters on city walls and public announcements of organized bussing of students to fill the Kotel Plaza – all to prevent WOW from praying. Concerned for our safety, we turned to the authorities responsible for ensuring the safety of all people. In response, the police shirked their duties and stated that our protection was actually in the hands of the Rabbi of the Kotel – who has neither the ability nor the will to protect the Women of the Wall community.

This negligence by the police led to multiple injuries and traumatic confrontations. The police tries to wash its hands of its responsibility, manipulating the facts and employing victim-blaming rhetoric. I am reminded of a recent situation when a WOW staff member filed a police report for the burning of her siddur; she stood incredulous when the police asked, “So, what made you set fire to your own prayerbook?” Though the injustice we face is nothing new, the sheer chutzpah, the audacity, of such apparent lies, still stings harshly. The personnel entrusted with our protection have used their hands to “high-five” those who slap us  and then lie straight to our faces.

The untruth lies in the word “provocative.” If only the police had the nerve to say that word directly to the mature women leaning on canes who were physically suffocated by thousands of teenage girls brought by their schools to deliberately disrupt the service; or to the young women whose arms are marked with bruises from forming a human chain to prevent the violent girls from injuring their own sisters. I would like for the police to explain to me precisely what we did to “provoke” such aggression.

The police stated that WOW “deliberately creat[ed] friction” at the Western Wall. Undoubtedly, they would have also accused Rosa Parks of “provoking” the Montgomery bus passengers in 1955. When our very presence threatens the stronghold of the powerful, our basic existence is seen as “provocative.”

The fallacy of the “provocateur” charge is necessary for the preservation of the existing power structure – one in which injustice prevails. Frightened by the prospect of their monopoly crumbling, the powers-that-be double down on their dominance by promoting a narrative that serves their interests and clears them of wrongdoing. How inconvenient that the facts – as evidenced in abundant photo and video footage – contradict these flimsy defenses.

We are approaching the holiday of Purim, a celebration of “topsy-turvy” twists of fate, expressed in the phrase “v’nahafoch hu,” meaning “it all flipped.” But recent headlines fill me with an uneasy sense of “v’nahafoch hu” as I witness the warping of truth, the twisting of facts with zero regard for justice. While I tend to the bruises on my body – purple, green and yellow mementos of being shoved brutally by ultra-Orthodox girls and women who refused to let our group pray in peace – these intentionally contorted narratives only add emotional insult to my physical injury.

We have a responsibility to protect Israel’s democracy in the midst of leaders siding with theocratic interests. We refuse to swallow lies and silently submit to an alternate reality in which “might is right” and truth is negotiable.

Our voices will speak truth to power until justice is restored.

About the Author
Lesley Sachs is the 2014 recipient of the NCJW Jewel Bellush Outstanding Israeli Feminist award and was one of the founding members of “Isha L’isha – Haifa’s Feminist Center” and worked for 10 years in the Israel Women’s Network. Lesley served as executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), vice president of the World Union For Progressive Judaism and founding director of Project, Kesher Israel. She is currently working as the executive director of Women of the Wall. She served on the board of directors for the Jerusalem Women’s Shelter, board of directors for the JNF-KKL and currently she is chair of the pre-army mechina Michmanim in Jaffa.
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