Israel police to block women activists from holy site

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Israeli police said they will stop a group of Jewish women activists who plan on Thursday to defy a ban on women praying aloud at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that under a 2003 court order, the women would be restricted to praying a short distance from the main area of the Wall.

But Shira Pruce, a spokeswoman for the Women of the Wall (WoW) group, told AFP members would try to worship on Thursday, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Iyar, at the main site “as we always do” at the start of a new month.

In the past, police have forcibly prevented the women from praying at the site and at times arrested some of them.

The 2003 court ban cited a danger to public order if the women were allowed to defy Jewish religious law and custom and pray in a manner traditionally reserved for men at such a deeply revered spot.

Women are allowed to pray at the ancient wall, but in silence.

As well as praying aloud, the activists have also enraged Orthodox worshippers by wearing the prayer shawls and skullcaps traditionally worn only by Jewish men.

Media reported on Wednesday that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky was trying to find a compromise so the women could pray as they wish without offending more traditional worshippers.

The Facebook page of the agency, a public body tasked with linking Israel to Jewish communities around the world confirmed Sharansky was working on a compromise plan.

“Sharansky hopes his recommendations will be accepted and will decrease the heightened tensions at the Western Wall,” the entry said, making the holy site “a symbol of unity among the Jewish people, and not one of discord and strife”.

It did not give details, and Pruce said nothing has yet been proposed to WoW.

“There are a lot of ideas circulating, and he’s having a lot of meetings, but there’s not been a proposal in writing that we can really say if we like it or we don’t like it.”

The Western Wall is venerated by Jews as the last remnant of King Herod’s temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

On its other side is the compound housing the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the most sensitive sites in Jerusalem where clashes frequently break out between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

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