An Israeli woman was arrested last Sunday after conducting a protest where she stripped down to a bathing suit at the Western Wall in response to a bill that could criminalize immodesty at the holy site.
The 35-year-old woman’s name was not released to the public, but she was identified as a central Jerusalem resident. According to reports, the woman removed her clothes after entering the women’s section of the Western Wall with her two-piece swimsuit and sneakers remaining.
מאיה בנבנישתי עמדה ברחבת הכותל בביקיני כדי להזכיר לאריה דרעי שהכותל לא רשום בטאבו על שמו. "בעיניי, זאת המשמעות של פמיניזם רדיקלי: קומי ועשי משהו, אל תשבי בבית ותעשי לייקים", היא אומרת לאורן זיו בראיון ראשון אחרי הפעולה בירושלים https://t.co/7jzslzYRWQ
— שיחה מקומית (@mekomit) February 13, 2023
Police quickly arrived, arrested the woman, and took her to a nearby station for questioning. If found guilty, the woman could be imprisoned for up to three years for “insult to religion” charges.
Authorities said they detained the woman “on the suspicion that she stripped off her clothes in a holy place deliberately.” The woman evidently planned the protest in advance when Israeli activist-photographer Oren Ziv was informed about her plans. He then accompanied her to the holy site, taking photos of the scene unfolding.
A 35-year-old woman protests at the Western Wall
She stripped down to underwear in protest of the intention to pass a law on appropriate clothing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
— Pablo Vinocur (@pvinocur) February 12, 2023
The strip protest was in response to a recently proposed bill by the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party criminalizing wearing immodest clothing on the Western Wall and praying in a manner not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, punishable by up to six months of jail time or a fine of 10,000 New Israeli Shekalim.
Although the proposal was quickly withdrawn due to fierce criticism, including within the coalition, similar proposals would likely appear again as Israel elected its most right-wing government in recent history.
Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, condemned the woman’s actions.
“We are horrified by the despicable act of provocation this morning at the Western Wall Plaza, which desecrated the holiness of the site and deeply offended the public and worshipers,” Rabinovitch said. “The Western Wall is a sacred site for every Jew and Jewess. It is not a place for dispute or provocation of any kind.”
Even though the proposed Western Wall bill was shelved after intense opposition, any behavior considered an “insult to religion” is a criminal offense under Israeli law. Someone who “destroys, damages or defames a place of worship or any object considered holy to a group of people, with the intention of degrading religion or with the knowledge that their action would be seen as insulting religion” could face up to three years in prison.