Religious Zionists of Beit Shemesh Hang Flags Across the City

April 23, 2015  

Last night, it was reported that Haredi extremists had flown an ISIS flag in Beit Shemesh in protest of Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day.

The incident is just the latest in a series of provocative occurrences that have embittered tensions between Haredi and Religious Zionist sectors of the city with many resident caught in the middle.

In February, seven residents were arrested and charged with “disturbing public order” , after throwing stones at police during a demonstration against Haredi IDF enlistment.

Last year, members of the major national Haredi political factions, United Torah Judaism and Shas, publicly condemned a physical assault on an IDF soldier in the city. 

For some in Beit Shemesh, the Israeli flag is itself a provocative symbol, leading to a limited posting of flags in the city. One neighborhood in Beit Shemesh decided to change all that. At the initiative of several people in the town, strings of plastic Israeli flags and larger Israeli banners were purchased and put up across certain parts of the city.

“There are less flags because the city is very poor,” says Dr. Eve Finkelstein of Beit Shemesh. “There are a few flags that were put up at the entrance to the city but not in the neighborhoods.”

She cites a massive debt for the Beit Shemesh municipality – itself a point of contention for the politically and socially divided city.

But she also says that the divide between the Haredi and National Religious parts of the city has made things more difficult. While finances are an issue, Finkelstein says that the National Religious part of the city still wanted to take the initiative despite more extremist pockets of the city that have harassed soldiers or other people expressing support for the state or Zionism in the past.

“We are a neighborhood of Datim Leumim. In this part of Beit Shemesh it should not be provocative at all. We live in Israel and we want to celebrate Independence Day and the flags add to the atmosphere.”

“God bless the contractors in our neighborhood for donating themselves and their ladders. It was really a wonderful thing. The entire community – everybody who helped us – it was really great and everyone got involved.”

The project was taken up in the Beit Shemesh neighborhoods of Scheinfeld and Nofei Aviv, which are major immigrant communities and themselves have a strong Religious Zionist population.

“We put the flags between the two Anglo, Dati Leumi neighborhoods streaming across the road. We actually strung them in one case from one person’s house high on the roof to across the street. “

“We were worried they might get pulled down. They haven’t been taken down, which I was surprised about actually.”

She says she has experienced conflict over the Israeli banner before, telling Arutz Sheva that she has at times pulled the Israeli flag off of her car when she drives through certain areas of the city. At once point, she found her car broken into and the flag torn to shreds.

Speaking to someone about it afterwards, she quotes someone as having told her, ”You understand an Israeli flag in our neighborhood is like a Hamas flag in your neighborhood.”

Dr. Finkelstein, who is a Dermatologist, says the community is not interested in conflict but simply wants to celebrate being in Israel. “We are mostly Anglos and we have made a choice to live here in Israel. Speaking as a dermatologist, I can tell you it would be easier outside Israel. Yet, we don’t want to leave.”

There is no Independence Day for this community without ‘the star and stripes’ waving in the winds from the light poles, says Finkelstein.

“When Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) comes up we want to celebrate. We want to have a party. There’s no sign there’s Yom HaAtzmaut around our neighborhood. The nice thing about this is that the flags make us happy.”

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