Woman of the wall Anat Hoffman complains of treatment after arrest

By Sahar Zivan, October 24, 2012
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Anat Hoffman (Photo: AP)

Anat Hoffman (Photo: AP)

Anat Hoffman, the chair of Women of the Wall, which campaigns to allow women equal rights to prayer at the Western Wall, has spoken out in a webcast about the circumstances surrounding her detention last week and her treatment while in jail.

In a webcast which was organised by the Pro-Zion Group in the UK, Ms Hoffman said: "From the second we arrived at the Wall, it was very clear that the police, together with the Western Wall Heritage Fund, which is the body that governs the Wall, made mostly of strictly Orthodox men, were ready for trouble."

She said that she was asked to lower her voice and did, and was asked to change the way in which she wore her tallit, which she also did. But despite complying, one of the police officers "grabbed my arm, pulled it behind my back, and took me to the police station. When we turned the corner, and it was quite dark there, he pulled my arm even harder, even though I showed no resistance. He hurt me, and when I said 'this is hurting me', he looked like 'that was the purpose of the whole thing, lady.' When I asked him at the police station 'why am I being detained?' he said 'because you resisted coming with me'".

Ms Hoffman also described being dragged along the concrete floor by her handcuffs after refusing to move to a different chair, and being left in the chair for three and a half hours, during which time she was not offered a drink, or the chance to go to the bathroom.

When she asked to see a judge, she was told that she would have to be arrested first. After this, Ms Hoffman said: "I went through a strip-search… all my possessions were taken away from me, I was placed in a holding cell with a prostitute, a car thief and a woman who was a child abuser.

"There was no bed for me, even though they said there would be. There was no blanket, even though it was cold. I wasn't allowed to call my lawyer, even though I began asking for it at 5:45 in the morning. Eventually when they took me to the jailhouse they put cuffs on my legs as well."

Ms Hoffman was released without charge the next day, as were Lesley Sachs and Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, fellow senior members of Women of the Wall, who were detained for questioning while at prayer the morning after Ms Hoffman's arrest.

The case has attracted criticism from across the Jewish world, with cross-denominational rabbis coming out against the policy.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis in Britain, said: "The potential spiritual impact of the Kotel is immense for the broadest spectrum of Jews. It is time that the Western Wall Heritage Foundation stopped crushing that spiritual impact by brusque and aggressive discrimination against millions of egalitarian Jews."

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism, joined the condemnation: "It is deeply disgraceful that Anat Hoffman was arrested for praying at the Western Wall. It is equally appalling that she seems to have been subject to gross humiliations while in custody.

"Even while the Temple stood there were areas within its precincts to which women had access. We must not allow Judaism, with its sacred regard for justice and compassion, to be turned into an excuse for bullying and degradation."

In a statement to the Jewish Chronicle, Israel police spokesman Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld said: "What she did was against a bagatz (Israeli Supreme Court) order." He also refuted her version of events, saying that: "She didn't agree to leave the area. She was taken to the Jerusalem police station and questioned. She was given the opportunity to speak to a lawyer and refused." Mr Rosenfeld added: "She was with the prison service throughout the night, and until now, several days after the incident, she has made no official complaint about any incidents involving any prison service officers."

UK activists are planning a prayer service outside of the Israel Embassy in South Kensington on November 14 to show solidarity with Ms Hoffman and the Women of the Wall.

Last updated: 5:03pm, October 24 2012