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Israeli press review: Army reservists protest as police accused of 'losing control'

Meanwhile, Shas ultra-Orthodox party is planning a bill that would criminalise all non-strict Jewish prayers at the Western Wall
Israeli military reservists protest against the plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government to overhaul the judicial system, on 9 Thursday 2023 (AP)

Western Wall

Israel's largest ultra-Orthodox party is planning to introduce a bill that would criminalise a range of activities at the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City, including mixed-gender prayers and "immodest attire".

The controversial bill would seek penalties against those praying at the Western Wall who do not fully adhere to ultra-Orthodox customs.

Yediot Ahronot reported that, for example, immodest dress and playing music at the Western Wall could result in a punishment of up to six months in prison and a hefty fine of up to 10,000 shekels ($2,840).

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Shas's leader, Aryeh Deri, plans to put the law to a vote, though no date has been announced. Shas is part of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cobbled together a coalition of far-right and religious groups in December.

Netanyahu could not appoint Deri - who had previously been convicted in a tax fraud case - as the minister of interior after the Supreme Court ruled against it in January.

Yediot Ahronot reported that other acts considered illegal would include "wearing an immodest attire, providing religious services of any kind without proper authorisation, playing musical instruments, listening to music, and singing without permission, and mixed prayers ".

The holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall is believed to be the last trace of the Second Temple. The ultra-Orthodox community, the feminists of the Women of the Wall (WOW) movement and liberal Jewish activists argue about who should implement regulations on the site.

Uriel Busso, an MP of the Shas party, defended the proposal, saying: "Would anyone think about entering a mosque dressed inappropriately? Everyone understands the sanctity of the Western Wall - we need a law that regulates this issue.

"Unfortunately, the Western Wall in recent years has become a site of conflict and protests, led by an extremist and radical group whose sole purpose is to defile the Western Wall and hurt the feelings of a majority of the Jewish people."

However, Benny Gantz, the former army chief and leader of the National Unity Party, criticised the proposal.

“No Jewish person has ownership over the holiest place of the Jewish people. The Western Wall belongs to all, religious and secular, right and left, and it is up to us to keep it as a place of unity for all people," he tweeted.

Police 'losing' control

Israel's far-right minister of national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, harshly criticised Jerusalem police for not dispersing a protest against planned changes to the judicial system that would limit the courts' power.

Ben-Gvir accused Israeli police of “losing control of the city to a group of anarchists" after 400 protestors marched in West Jerusalem on Thursday evening.

Some 100 pro-government activists clashed with the protestors, the Times of Israel reported.

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Ben-Gvir said that "an event in which tyres were burned next to the prime minister’s apartment, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway was blocked and the city’s light rail was blocked; these are all most serious incidents that police forces were present at, however, they received an explicit order not to enforce the law and not to confront the rioters".

Protestors gathered in the Rehavia neighbourhood on Thursday evening, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is living while waiting to renovate his official residence. Two people were arrested.

Israeli police said it allowed “the freedom to demonstrate and freedom of speech in accordance with the law”.

Ben-Gvir summoned Doron Turgeman, the Jerusalem District Police Commander, for a "clarification" meeting on Thursday evening. 

However, Kobi Shabtai, the Police Commissioner, had defended the officers and Turgeman for "standing firm standing firm and exercising discretion in handling the protest".

Army reservists protest

Hundreds of Israeli army reservists completed a three-day protest march against the judicial planning reforms set up by Netanyahu's government.

The march, which started on Wednesday from Latrun town, reached the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Friday.

The procession is one of many that have been happening weekly since January. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli have protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against the limiting of the judiciary's power.

Critics of the reforms labelled it a "coup", which would damage democratic values in the country as the government would have the power to strike down decisions by courts and legal advisors in ministries, with a slim majority vote in the Knesset.

Retired Major General Tal Russo told Ynet news: "I hope that we will manage to somehow hold it back, and insert some sense into this gang of out-of-touch people who are leading the judicial overhaul."

Army reservists, soldiers, and graduates of military colleges had steered away from engaging in politics for years. However, in the past few years, they have joined the wave of demonstrations in the country.

Israeli press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

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