Testimony of Anat Hoffman concerning the events of Tuesday, October 16th and Wednesday, October 17th, 2012
I arrived at the Western Wall at 10:20 pm. Several members of our group’s board were in the plaza. We walked around without anything to do; there was no sign of the Hadassah Women. Over the telephone, we heard that their event at the Jerusalem International Conference Center had begun half an hour late, which would also affect their time of arrival at the Western Wall. Toward the rear of the plaza, two or three people from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (WWHF) had gathered with some uniformed police officers. It was obvious that preparations had been made in advance for our arrival. The police began to bother us – we must not distribute material, we must not write down the names of women on a form, and so forth. The police did not make any formal contact with us to ask us about our intentions or to discuss how the event might proceed without problems. It was apparent that the police were acting on behalf of the WWHF and were not making any effort to engage in dialogue with us. The WWHF is the master of the house, and we are guests.
At about 10:45 pm, the first Hadassah bus finally arrived with some 50 women. We weren’t sure whether to begin straight away or to wait for more women to arrive, since the women explained that there were more buses on the way. However, they also told us that the bus drivers had warned them that they had just 30 minutes, and no more, to be at the Western Wall: in 30 minutes the bus would leave for the hotel. Under this pressure, we decided to begin the prayer service with those present. We invited the women to move into the women’s section. When we were standing toward the back of the women’s section, we began a short niggun. There were a few shouts of displeasure from the men’s side, but nothing more. Then I took two or three minutes to explain the evening’s program. I welcomed the participants and told them about the group. At this stage, Policewoman Ahuva Askalsi came up to me and demanded that I wear my Tallit like a scarf. I did as she asked, but while I was speaking one side of the Tallit dropped back to its normal position. She again approached me, warned me not to let it drop down again, and told me that I must wrap the Tallit around my neck like a scarf. I did as she asked, but commented to the women that there is no mention of this requirement by the police in the Supreme Court ruling, and that this is an invention of the police.
After I made my explanatory comments, the Hadassah women surprised me by breaking out in applause. The police did not approve of their reaction. At this point, Inspector Daniel Sarga approached and stood behind me. We had just begun to recite the Shema. We did not manage to finish the prayer. We reached the words “It shall come to pass, if you listen diligently…” and the officer ordered me to lower my voice. I did as he asked, but I did not stop reciting the text. The officer saw this as failure to follow his instruction. My thinking was that since he asked me to lower my voice, he did not intend that I should be completely silent. His angry response suggested that he had expected me to fall silent immediately, along with the other worshippers. He said to me, “You are under arrest.” He seized my right arm, pushed it toward my shoulder, and then pushed me, in a manner that hurt me and caused me discomfort, toward the police station. Policewoman Askalsi walked to my left, lightly supporting my left side. There was no need to bend my arm, since I was accompanying him without any resistance. We walked very rapidly (I almost stumbled) to the steps leading to the Western Wall Police. There, at a turning point on the steps where no-one was present, the office tightened his grip for an unknown reason and actually bent my arm in a manner causing great pain, leading me to bend over, my head facing down to the ground. I told him, “You are hurting me,” and I gained the impression that this is precisely what he had intended.
It is important to me to note that there was no real reason to tighten the hold on me as we ascended the steps, other than the fact that no other person was present at this dark corner.
I waited in the dark courtyard, without being offered a chance to drink, to go to the bathroom, to call an attorney or to attend to other matters for three hours. For most of the time, I sat on the ground. The officer came out of the compound, returned to the Western Wall, and did not seem to be in a hurry to complete the complaint forms so that I could leave the Western Wall police station, go the investigator at the Kishle police station, and continue the process.
For all this time, the handcuffs were very tightly fastened over the bruise I had sustained when I was dragged along the floor. I did not know that it was possible to alleviate this pressure.
When the officer finished writing the complaint before we set off for the Kishle, I asked to be informed of Sarga’s rank. Sarga himself replied that his rank was “ranag,” using a Hebrew acronym that I did not recognize as a police rank. I asked a policeman who was present on the scene what “ranag” stands for, and from his response I gathered that the officer had been lying and making a joke at my expense when he made this reply. I repeatedly asked to know what his rank was, and after repeated implorations, I was told that he is an inspector. It might seem to be a trivial matter that a police officer who arrests someone makes jokes and invents a fictitious rank or one that serves as an internal code in the police station., but I felt insulted and furious that the officer failed to identify himself immediately and accurately.
After the writing of the complaint against him was finally completed, the driver Mario arrived with the transport vehicle. Before I got in the vehicle which took me to the Kishle, I had to undergo a physical examination in the bathroom. Policewoman Askalsi did not demand that I undress completely, but merely tapped my body with her hands, while explaining that she “does not enjoy this.” I was led in handcuffs along the Western Wall plaza to a police vehicle; as I walked toward the vehicle, Policewoman Askalsi walked alongside me, while a heavy-built policeman walked behind us. I was told to sit on the back seat next to the policewoman. I was taken to the Kishle police station. I estimate that the time was 3 am.
I sat in the corridor at the station and waited for the investigator Shami Shiraz to become available. After about half an hour, he invited me into his room and ordered that my handcuffs be removed. He allowed me to receive paper and a pen so that I could write down the main points of the interrogation. He informed me that I was being investigated for “disobeying a lawful instruction, “behaving in a manner liable to disturb the peace,” and “offending religious sentiments.” He claimed that I had committed these acts by entering the Western Wall plaza while wearing a Tallit and by “leading singing” together with other women. He claimed that when I was asked to stop singing, I refused to do so, and when I was asked to wear the Tallit like a scarf I declined to follow the request. All these actions were, he claimed, contrary to the law. He told me that I was entitled to consult with an attorney. I replied that my attorney was sleeping, and I asked to speak to my friend and my partner on the board of the Women of the Wall, Ms. Lesley Sachs. He allowed me to do so. I asked her to inform Attorney David Barhum of what had happened, and I also asked her to inform my 16-year-old son, who was waiting for me at home, and to tell him to prepare his own sandwiches for school.
The investigator, who entered the room during the discussion of the sandwiches, asked me to hand him back the telephone immediately. “I gave you an opportunity to speak to an attorney and you are talking to a friend about sandwiches.” His behavior implied that it was illegitimate for a mother who has suddenly been arrested to attend to matters relating to her son, who is waiting for her at home.
The investigator’s questions were:
Why were you arrested, if you know why?
I answered the last question by stating that Inspector Daniel Sraga had told me at David police station that I had resisted arrest, and I requested that the investigation report state that I accompanied the officer without any resistance.
What did you do when the policeman asked you to remove the Tallit.
I replied: The policeman did not talk to me about the Tallit – it was the policewoman who did so, and she did not ask me to remove the Tallit, but to wrap it around my neck. I did as she asked.
What did you do when the policeman asked you to be silent?
I replied – the policeman did not ask me to be silent. He asked me to lower my voice and I did so, without interrupting the prayer, since we were in the middle of reciting the Shema.
The next question was: “Policewoman Ahuva asked you to wear the Tallit like a scarf. Why did you not agree to do so?”
I replied that I indeed wrapped the Tallit around my neck as she asked. But a scarf and a Tallit are made of different materials. A scarf is intended to be wrapped around the neck, while a Tallit is not. And since the Tallit is not designed to stay around the neck, one of the ends of the Tallit happened to fall from my shoulder while I was praying. I added that the policewoman’s request has absolutely no connection with the Supreme Court ruling regarding the use of a Tallit in the Western Wall plaza, but is the invention of the Western Wall police. I emphasized that a policewoman can demand that I remove the Tallit, but she has no foundation for acting as a fashion police and instructing me on how to wear the Tallit.
Is there any religious difference how the Tallit is worn? Is there any difference between it being wrapped around the neck like a scarf or placed on the shoulders?
I could not answer this question.
Lastly, I was asked if I had anything else to say. I repeated that Inspector Daniel Sraga was lying when he claimed that the reason for my arrest was that I resisted arrest. The investigator asked whether I would be willing to be released that same evening, on the spot, on restrictive conditions. I refused, and asked to see a judge. The reason for this was that the investigation files against the Women of the Wall are closed on the grounds of “absence of guilt.” In other words, even when the alleged offense has been filmed, documented, questioned and investigated, no indictment is ultimately served.
Accordingly, I believe that the purpose of the arrest, the delays, and the whole process is to lead to release on restrictive conditions, to deny the leaders of the group access to the Western Wall, to silence the leaders and intimidate the members of the group, and ultimately to use the police tool to remove, silence and bring down the Women of the Wall group, which prays in accordance with the Halacha, although not in accordance with the usual custom. I wanted to convince a judge to refrain from imposing restrictive conditions, and to demand that the police explain the purpose of the investigations which, as noted, end in nothing despite the collection of extensive evidence.
At this stage, over five hours after I had been taken to the police, I requested a glass of water. This was also the first time that I asked to use the bathroom and was allowed to do so (with an accompanying policewoman). Shiraz instructed Policewoman Askalsi and the police driver Mario to take me to the Russian Compound detention center. I entered the vehicle, and once again I was handcuffed. We reached the Russian Compound at about 5 am.
After all my belongings were taken from me, I was led to the detention center physician. He asked me whether I was generally in good health, whether I take medication, and whether I receive psychiatric care. I was weighed and measured and the figures were recorded on a form. I was then taken into a room adjacent to the entrance to the detention center. Policewoman Askalsi told me that I must now undergo a physical search, and this time “without cutting corners.” She demanded that I undress completely, including my underpants and bra. She put a latex glove on her hand and merely used the glove to feel all my clothes. She instructed me to get dressed and to return to the entrance room of the detention center. I stood in front of the desk and asked the guard when I could call my attorney in the morning. He replied that immediately “after roll call” I could ask the officer for permission to make a telephone call. I asked the guard for permission to locate the attorney’s telephone number in my cell phone, so that I could call him. The guard himself wrote the number down on a piece of paper, since I was still in handcuffs. I took the piece of paper and placed it inside my bra, since I did not have a bag or pockets. The guard who accompanied me told me that I could sleep now for what was left of the night, and he removed the handcuffs. After he closed the metal door behind me, I found myself in a cell with three women sleeping under gray woolen military blankets. I assumed that I would also have a bed and a blanket, but to my surprise I found that in the place where there should have been a bed, mattress and blanket, three garbage bags had been placed. I found a stained, damp mattress on the floor. I sat on it and tried to understand how, exactly, I could “sleep for what was left of the night.”
The temperature in the cell was low. The other women were curled up under more than one blanket. I sat close to the metal door of the cell and waited for morning to come. At about 6 am, a female guard and an officer came into the cell. They asked everyone to “stand up by the bed.” I stood on the mattress. No-one seemed surprised that I did not have a bed or blanket. I asked when I would be able to call my attorney, and the warden replied that I should have called him before I was detained. I explained that when I entered the detention center, I had been told that I could call in the morning. They replied: “So the guy was kidding you on,” meaning that he was joking at my expense. You cannot call an attorney., When I asked why I did not have a blanket, they replied that there was a shortage. When I asked how we could get rid of the garbage bags, I was told that they had to be pushed through an opening in the metal door, and that “this is almost impossible.” This is why the bags had been left on the area that was supposed to be the fourth bed in the cell. At this stage I felt a tremendous sense of frustration and began to call out for my attorney, shouting “David, David” into the silence of the detention center. A guard (called Yahya, I think) threatened me and told me that if I kept on shouting, “you won’t be allowed to make any telephone calls.” Female guards from the neighboring corridors mimicked my voice, crying out, “David, David.” They scornfully shouted “hey, Davey boy,” “Dave,” and “Dudu,” joining in my cries.
A prison officer (called Rifat, I think) came to the cell after about an hour. He promised to call Attorney David Barhum for me, so I gave him the note with the attorney’s phone number. It later emerged that he did not use the number and did not call the attorney. During the morning, breakfast was brought to the cell. The food was inserted through the opening in the metal door straight onto the floor: cottage cheese, bread in a bag, tomatoes and cucumbers.
I was then taken out of the cell to the room of the social worker (Noam), who was the only member of the Israel Prison Service who treated me decently, respectfully and sensitively. He assessed my potential for depression, suicide or delinquency. He asked me to sign a waiver of confidentiality and I refused to do so. He understood, and he parted from me with genuine warmth.
I was then taken to the magistrate’s court adjacent to the detention center. My legs were shackled and I was again handcuffed. I was taken to the court in a vehicle together with another detainee, a Russian from Siberia of Tatar origin who had been in Israel for five months and was suspected of soliciting. We were both placed in a very small cell close a cell where several men were waiting for their turn in court. The men immediately began to talk crudely to the woman who was with me. For over an hour, they detailed exactly what they would do, together and each one on his own, to “calm her down” and how good they were at calming down Russian women. Gula, the woman accused of soliciting, spent this whole time crying. The protracted exposure to the filthy speech of the male detainees and to Gula’s tears was one of the hardest parts of this experience for me. Throughout this time, there were guards in the corridor between the two cells. None of them silenced the men. During our time in the cell, the handcuffs were removed. I noticed that all the detainees who were taken to the courtrooms were handcuffed. However, in my case, a man from the Nachshon Unit (Dror – a tall, thin officer) told me that “as a special gesture” he was removing my handcuffs. When I asked why, he refused to reply. In my opinion, the reason is that there were television cameras alongside Judge Kaduri’s courtroom. Later, I heard the guards arguing among themselves like small children about who would accompany me to the courtroom and enjoy a few seconds in the limelight. I feel contempt for a system that pays strict attention to procedures, down to the last letter, until media cameras are involved.
Before entering the courtroom, the above-mentioned Dror warned me that I must not talk, be interviewed or make any gesture with my fingers. If I did so, it would be considered a “disciplinary offense” and the consequences would be grave. I was placed far from my family and supporters, who filled the room. After a brief hearing, I was released on restrictive conditions: I was barred from the Western Wall for 30 days and had to deposit self-bail of NIS 5,000. I left the courtroom, returned to the detention center, received the sealed plastic bag with my personal possessions, and returned home.