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Compass – The Israeli High Court on September 12 heard a petition by ultra-orthodox Jews to hold a 700-person demonstration in front of the house of a family of Messianic Jews. In the past, the group’s smaller protests consisted of shouting obscenities and slurs at the Christians.

The ultra-orthodox group, the Gur Hassidim, had sought to reverse a decision by the Israeli police to prohibit a demonstration of 700 people in front of the home of Polly Sigulim, a Messianic Jew. Since April 2004, the Gur Hassidim have demonstrated weekly in front of the home in Arad , a village in the Negev , shouting insults. On other occasions, according to witnesses, members of the group have yelled “Jesus, the bastard.”

Sigulim, a widow who is the mother of three children and five foster children, rents a large home at the end of a street in Arad, with a parking area where the ultra-orthodox want to hold the demonstration.

“They are taking liberties that are not right,” Sigulim said of the Gur Hassidim. “To come and complain for a year and a half? That’s a long time complaining about the same thing.”

Initially Israeli police only watched and giggled as demonstrators hurled religious and personal insults at the family during demonstrations by hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews. Police had claimed that, based on the constitutional freedom of expression, they could not forbid smaller demonstrations in front of the houses of Sigulim and other Messianic Jewish believers and Christians. The subsequent ban came after dangerous escalations in harassment.

At the September 12 hearing, High Court President Aharon Barak suggested a compromise of a demonstration limited to 250 people once a year in front of Sigulim’s house. He instructed the lawyers of the police and the Hassidim to discuss his idea, but they reached no agreement. Unable to mediate an agreement, the High Court is expected to issue a ruling soon.

All of Sigulim’s foster children are from Jewish Messianic or Christian families. Some years ago an Israeli Jewish girl, regularly visiting the family, asked one of the foster children for a New Testament. After reading it twice, she became a believer in Jesus.

“It was not a matter of Yakim [her pastor] or me preaching to her,” Sigulim recalls. “She wanted what the other kids have.” Because she was a minor, the congregation did not allow her to participate in its activities. When she turned 18, she wanted to be baptized. Four months later, in April 2004, 250 ultra-orthodox Jews held a big demonstration in front of Sigulim’s house.

This demonstration left those present with “very hard feelings and impressions,” said Yakim Figueras, pastor of the Hebrew-speaking congregation of Christians and Messianic Jews in Arad to which Sigulim belongs. “There were hard words said against the believers. We were called worse than Israel ’s worst enemies through big loudspeakers.”

Since then, scores of small demonstrations have taken place near Sigulim’s house, Figueras said. During the court session the police lawyer, Figueras, Sigulim and her neighbor have tried to convince the three High Court judges that they are being harassed and intimidated on a daily basis, even though the neighbor adheres to no particular faith. Barak, however, did not want to connect the harassment to the question of whether to hold another large demonstration in front of Sigulim’s house.

Though police previously refused to stop group protests in deference to free speech, they ultimately refused the Gur Hassidim permission to stage the large event because demonstrations in front of private homes are forbidden. Police had suggested that the ultra-orthodox Jews should demonstrate in another part of the street, where there are no private homes…[Go To Full Story]