2009. Midday. Two young sisters walk home together from the bus. A man in his 30s starts following them. They look at each other and speed up. He's disappeared. After a few moments he reappears in a big car, blocking their path, and screams at them. He lambastes them for dressing provocatively, warning them not to walk around like that again in the streets. "You can't tell us how to dress," they reply fearfully.
The man gets angry and climbs out of the car, but they escape him and begin running home. He runs after them, carrying a big bottle. They scream for help, with the hope that their parents will hear and come help them. A short time earlier a man – not the one chasing them now – poured a bottle of acid on their neighbor, a 14-year-old girl, apparently because she also dressed "immodestly." The girl was burned on her face, stomach and legs and required medical treatment. The man chasing the two sisters throws his bottle at them and disappears.
What were you wearing that day?
"I remember that we were dressed very modestly," one of the two girls says. Two years have passed and she's still upset. "Maybe my skirt was too short for his taste. But short means that the skirt reaches a little bit above my knees. Both of us adhere to dressing modestly, we're observant. All we were doing was walking a few short blocks from the bus stop home. After the incident, we were frightened, and afraid to go to the police station. So we called a police car to our home and filed a complaint. But nothing was done."
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In recent years a squad of men in the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit (Upper Beitar) have been working on instilling order on the city streets. Nissim Haddad, a municipal worker, heads this squad. He's the one the girls say ran after them. Israel Hayom has obtained a long list of testimonies and complaints about violence and threats that Haddad, and sometimes those who work with him, appear to have made against young people in town. Haddad and his squad focus on youth, or we should say youth that "has gone astray" – who deviate from the harsh ultra-Orthodox status-quo that prevails in Beitar Illit.
In some cases these are youngsters who have left the ultra-Orthodox school frameworks and wander the streets with nothing to do, looking for some action. From conversations with many youths in the city, it appears mostly to be youngsters who dared to test the religious boundaries a bit, who think a bit more independently or are simply confused – as most youth are at that age. In a private conversation, a senior municipality employee termed these young people "garbage."
Haddad, 37, has a criminal record. In 2005, he was sentenced to two years and one month in jail for kidnapping with intent to blackmail, coercion, threats and attacks. Before his arrest he studied at the Beitar Illit kollel [an institute for full-time, advanced Talmudic study for married men] and had a money-changing business. After his release from prison he began working for the municipality. His activities are meant to be aimed at the "drop-out youth," which are not part of the religious study frameworks in town. The Committee of Beitar Illit, which brings together several communities in the town, and headed by Chairman Rabbi Yohanan Bloy and General Manager Rabbi Yitzhak Shamni, cooperates with his work. We learn from the committee's internal documents that it also cooperates with the municipality, headed by Mayor Meir Rubinstein. "The mayor doesn't miss any opportunity to develop a more efficient system for working in the community, by using pleasantness on one hand and determination on the other to preserve the city's character," according to the documents.
These documents detail the activities executed on behalf of the community council: Haddad is responsible for dealing with the "spiritual damage" in town, especially "problematic youth." He's compiling an extensive database comprising intelligence about these boys and girls and their families, aimed at determining what level of risk they pose to the town's residents.
The municipality and the council of communities allocate him resources to establish patrol and action teams. He has a fancy office, a salary, and a car and phone provided by the municipality.
Ezra Dvora is another person who works closely with Haddad and is in charge of overseeing public transportation, also funded by the municipality. Dvora "immediately deals with any physical or spiritual danger to the passengers," according to the documents. The "dangers" are a lack of separation between men and women, immodest, bad language and "listening to harmful music." It's important to note that the High Court of Justice has already banned gender separation on public transport in Israel, and in keeping with this, it is Transportation Ministry policy as well.
"I was walking with my wife one Friday night, before we got married, and Haddad threatened me: 'You can't walk with her like that, and if you do, I have people who will take care of you and take you off the street," says S., a former Beitar Illit resident. "We were only walking together, without touching and there wasn't anyone who even saw it," S. adds. "This guy's been carrying on for years and no one does anything about it. I sat with my wife on a bus and he and Ezra Dvora got on and Haddad said: 'You can't sit with her.' We got off at our stop and he followed us, grabbed me, took me aside and threatened me, saying this was the last time that I would do such a thing.
"We are still very observant but we left Beitar Illit, because we couldn't live like this. I heard Haddad bragging several times about how he was in jail. He uses his past as a weapon. Our families still live in Beitar Illit, so they mustn't know that I talked to you."
"Complete control of the streets"
"The results of our hard work can be easily seen in the field," the documents say. "There are few cases of innocent people being harassed or bothered, and spiritual dangers have been reduced significantly, they claim. Even those that still exist are dealt with quickly and with determination. During holidays it wasn't safe to walk but it has become safe again with the ultra-Orthodox taking back control of these public places, the documents say.
Haddad describes his ultimate goal as gaining "complete control of the city streets. Besides the cooperation with the municipality and its security department, according to the internal documents, Haddad says that at problematic times, when the streets are jammed with people – like on Purim – he cooperates with police in maintaining order in the town.
However, four months ago, two incidents occurred on one Shabbat eve that rekindled anger and criticism felt toward Haddad. A 17-year-old girl walked with her 15-year-old sister on one of the city's main streets. "Nissim Haddad and another man started walking after us, talked between about my clothes and said I was a whore," the girl recalls. "We said to ourselves, let's turn around and go home. Then he came up to us and said: "This is the last time I'm telling you – you can't walk around like this in this city anymore." We didn't pay any attention, because we said doing so would be violating Shabbat. When he saw that we weren't heeding his words, he approached me and slapped me. I was shocked; my face flew sideways. Then he threatened my sister. "Wait, wait," he said, 'Next time it will be your turn. I'll chase you and find you."
What were you wearing?
"I was wearing a dress that went down to my knees but you could see my shoulders. That was apparently the problem. It was during the summer vacation, and it was hot."
"My sister was dressed very modestly. She's religious, I'm a little less so now. Nissim already threatened me in the past that he would catch up to us and we would get a beating. He threatens girls he doesn't think dress modestly enough for him."
The girls' mother says that even before the incident, "When he would see the girls walking the dog at night, he would chase after them and really search for them. He chased them several times and cursed them, and they had to hide in the entrance to one of the buildings. Several times he threatened to hit them if they walked the dog at night, and then he came to my house. When I understood that he was threatening them, I inquired about him and when he came over I told him straight that he better leave us alone. Because I wasn't from one of those families that beat their children and the kids stay quiet out of fear.
"After the attack them I provided my daughters with mace. Now when he sees them, he appears to restrain himself, maybe because we filed a complaint with the police. So far nothing has happened with the complaint."
The girl's family is observant, but of the seven children, she and her older brother who enlisted in the army are not. "I allow my children to make their own choices," the mother explains. "Two of them chose not to live an observant lifestyle. Apparently there's no room for them in this town. There's absolutely no tolerance for anyone who doesn't follow the ultra-Orthodox line, and we are apparently a family who thinks too much and is too independent."
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The night the girl was hit, two brothers aged 18-19 claim they got similar treatment. "A day before the attack we played soccer on the youth team's field," says one of them. "Haddad was selling clothes there, so he told us not to play because of the sale. We argued with him, but we left the field. Friday night I sat at the square with my little brother. Nissim came up to me and said to my brother:
'Don't go near the field again.' We told him: 'Why, does your father own it?' They began arguing, and Nissim started slapping my brother, chasing after him, and punching him. I tried to intervene and I got hit, too. I managed to run down to the main street. I slipped on the ground, and then two people who work with Nissim punched the heck out of me, punching me in the face, kicking me in the ribs. I spent the evening in Shaarei Tzedek Hospital."
The next day the two brothers filed a complaint. "The investigators told us: 'There's nothing we can do about Nissim Haddad – he's got 'support,'" one of the brothers said. "Haddad claimed I hit him. If you'd seen me that day you'd see I was covered in blood – and he says that I attacked him and he protected himself."
The boys' older brother says: "Haddad immediately filed a complaint against my brothers claiming they were the ones who attacked him, and an order was issued that all those involved keep away from each other." The brother also complained to the Justice Ministry's Police Investigation Department, claiming there was a big stack of complaints against Haddad that weren't being processed. "Haddad was called in for investigation and miraculously no file has gone anywhere beyond an investigation In our case, Haddad came to the Gush Etzion police accompanied by Mayor Rubinstein. Maybe that's the reason why nothing happens. He comes to the investigations haughtily, accompanied by the mayor."
After these two incidents a group was set up on Facebook called "Stopping the violence in Beitar (and Nissim Haddad)." On the group's page, its members called for organizing a demonstration and acting to stop Haddad's activities. This wake-up call was very unusual; for years young people and their families were afraid to complain, believing the matter could be interpreted as a Chilul Hashem (desecrating God's name) and staining the name of the observant community.
Recently, at the same time this story was being prepared and maybe as a result of it, posters expressing support for Haddad were put up by the Ashkenazi communities in the town declaring: "God is with you, oh brave soldier" and seeking "to thank our dear neighbor who stands guard for our city." Among the other things written in the posters: "Rabbi Nissim Haddad is acting in God's name and giving himself up for the holiness of our city and is on guard at all times, all legally and properly done… He is acting with the support and under the direction of the great rabbis of the Badatz (rabbinical court)." The young people were asked to "help [Haddad] as much as possible, both in actions or words of encouragement. Because doing holy work is very difficult."
In the indictment filed against Haddad in 2005, incidents are described that make one wonder how he could have been employed as municipality youth coordinator. One person was hit by him "all over his body, with him [Haddad] kicking him and punching him in the face, stomach, head and ribs," while his victim begged him to stop. Haddad threatened the man that he would kidnap his younger brother. Then he took out a box cutter, putting it up to the man's face while holding the man's head with his other hand "and threatened him if he did not give him the location of someone else who Haddad said owed him money. Later he pushed a screwdriver in the man's face and said he'd put it in his eye if he didn't tell him where he could find the man. He added that he would "take him to a field wrapped up in plastic bags and his mouth taped where he would confess and tell everything."
Haddad got to the fellow who "owed him." He forced him into a car, and while driving pulled a knife on him and threatened that he would "peel pieces off his neck," punched him in the face and said if he didn't stay quiet about it, "the whole car will be dripping with blood." Haddad pulled a screwdriver out of his pocket and warned the man that if he didn’t agree to everything they said to him, he would stick the screwdriver in his back and buttocks. "Then they would push sticks up his buttocks and the whole neighborhood would rape him, even people with all kinds of different diseases," the indictment said. Later the man was thrown into an apartment where Haddad threatened that soon "people will come who will slaughter you". When the man began to scream, "[Haddad] took a wooden bat in his hand and began hitting him on the feet, stomach and hands."
These are just some of the shocking facts detailed in the indictment. Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, who heard Haddad's appeal over being detained until the completion of legal proceedings against him, noted how dangerous he was: "These actions are shocking… [Haddad] used all the means at his disposal to get his money back and took the law into his own hands. He is not only dangerous to the plaintiffs themselves, but to the public in general."
An official in the Beitar Illit Municipality explained this week that "if Haddad manages to keep things quiet, so that the residents' way of life is not imposed upon, it's convenient for everyone – the police, the municipality, the families…for everyone."
Even if it's done violently?
I think you have to be stupid to tell Haddad that he can use violence against the youth. Now ask me if there are any stupid people here – you can understand the answer yourself. Formally, he's supposed to run a youth club. There are activities and a carrot and stick approach."
Why did he of all people get the educational position?
Maybe they thought he was fitting. He's a ba'al tshuva (a newly observant Jew). He knows the kids."
He's a released prisoner.
Really. Look, you know the answer they'll give– in every drug rehabilitation center there are former drug addicts. In Beitar Illit there are also youth who've been criminals and Haddad apparently knows how to speak their language."
Boys and girls separately
Haddad's activities also include dealing with Jewish women who are in relationships with Arab men, passing information to police about thefts and break-ins, preventing "socializing" between boys and girls in the city, silencing loud music from car radios and families who take their barking dogs for a stroll. On the other hand, according to the municipality, Haddad has brought young boys who were thrown out of their homes into his own and helps them.
One of the things that Haddad and his people pay special attention to is the mixing of boys and girls in the street. A young Jerusalem man said that about a year ago he was attacked by Haddad and three other people – because he was with a girl. "There was a girl next to me. I didn't touch her. I walked near her like you would walk with a friend. Suddenly I was surrounded. They told me they would murder me if I continued walking with her, and one of them gave me a very hard slap in the ear. I had trouble hearing for a while. I wanted to fight back, complain, but the policeman told me: 'It's not worth filing a complaint. They said that you threatened to murder them.' They are very clever, they're no fools. So I decided not to walk around there anymore or have anything to do with them.
What did they tell you?
"They told me 'If you continue hanging around here, we'll come to your bed, if necessary, and kill you. We will be waiting for you at your house, we'll chase you your whole life, wherever you go."
The youngster said he wasn't ultra-Orthodox anymore. "I changed my way of life and enlisted in the army, and luckily they recognize me as a lone soldier. My family still lives in Beitar Illit; they're all religious, and I live in a rented apartment. I want to live with my family, but this reality forces me not to be with them. I don't want to hurt them, so I hardly come to visit."
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Who threatened whom?
"We get anonymous phone calls. They threatened that the population screening committee would throw my brothers out of school. They said I pulled up little girls' skirts in the street. There was a lot of nasty stuff. You don't want them to do these things to your family and wander around in fear that you'll be beaten up. So I only come to my mother's house occasionally, eat a little of her home cooking, and leave."
Another young man recalled: "I was sitting with my sisters on a park bench. Haddad came along and asked: "Are you brother and sister?" I said: 'Yes,' and my sister said: 'No, and what do you care? Get out of here." He told me: "I'm the head of the modesty guards. Here in Beitar Illit boys and girls don't sit together. I could chop you up into pieces.' We got up and left, and he continued walking after us. He grabbed me by the hand and started pulling me hard. We pushed him back and he continued following us all the way home."
Did you file a police complaint?
"Yes, but the file was closed. His testimony was baseless. He claimed that we provoked him, that we were hugging. But really, that's my sister, man. There's a limit as to about how many things you can make baseless accusations. We're afraid to make too much noise. We all live in Beitar Illit It will really hurt us."
"It's important to me that people understand that what is going on here is not God's will," says the mother of the 17-year-old girl was attacked. "I'm not a prophetess or a scholar. I'm simply a mother who loves her children and God. And God is good. Absolutely good. And it's an injustice that people interpret the Torah in a warped manor, as they like. It's inconceivable that boys and girls in Beitar Illit can't live their lives like their brothers and sisters in other towns. It's inconceivable that in the year 2011 our youth experience things more suited to dark regimes. This isn't the land of the Taliban. I went to war for my children's freedom, for their given right to live their youth as free people."
Moshe Friedman, media adviser for the town of Beitar Illit, responded on behalf of Mayor Rabbi Meir Rubenstein, Nissim Haddad and Ezra Dvora:
"Mr. Nissim Haddad is a municipal employee. In his role as 'neighborhood activist dealing with youth' Haddad does his work very effectively. He has dedicated his heart and soul to the youth, and often hosts them in his home during the week, on Shabbat and holidays – youth whose parents we are sorry to say kicked them out of their homes. Often he puts up bail to get them out of prison, testifies on their behalf in court and helps them any way he possibly can. Haddad even arranged meetings between the youth and a representative of the Netzach Yisrael battalion of the IDF, and some of the boys enlisted. He also managed, in his special way, with a pleasant manner and social atmosphere, to arrange frameworks for studying or work for dozens of youth.
"Unfortunately, a small number of them occasionally disturb the peace in the city, and several times residents including women and children were attacked by them. The complaints against Haddad aren't true, and are intended to detract public and police attention from their own actions. Haddad himself has been attacked several times by a small minority of youths. The door to his house was burned, his tires were punctured, and his family was severely attacked. Haddad never filed a police complaint against the criminal youth so that they wouldn't have a record that could harm them during rehabilitation, which he so desires."
"Municipal employees and city residents receive inspiration. Dozens of letters of thanks have flowed into the municipality about his dedicated service – from parents, residents, neighbors and various groups – and they are like the witness of thousands to his great contribution to the youth. We are sorry that instead of praising his dedicated work it has been written that the man threatened people, and facts are presented which never happened. The complaints brought up here turned out to be laughable.
"The attempt at including Haddad's criminal past is also irrelevant. The incident for which he was sentenced has nothing to do with his public work and actions. Haddad was judged, convicted and paid his debt to society on something he did within the framework of his private life and related to a huge debt that wasn't paid back and bothered him.
"Ezra Dvora is a guard in a company employed by the municipality and only acts within the framework of the law in any case of disturbance of the peace, with dedication and noteworthy effectiveness. Ezra handles all incidents of harassment of residents or disturbance of the peace on public transportation and thank God, since he started working, there has been a drastic reduction in the number of incidents of disturbance, which very much bothered the residents and drivers.
"The Beitar Illit Municipality runs a number of Torah seminaries for youth who have difficulty finding their way in normal educational frameworks. In the seminaries these boys and girls find a warm, supportive educational framework run by professional staff who specialize in problematic youth. The municipality also operates frameworks for creative study of culture for girls having difficult fitting into the normal educational frameworks. At the mayor's request, each night one seminary staffed with trained youth counselors offers activities. In addition, the staff operates a sports and physical fitness club. There are also various sports competitions and cultural activities.
"Most of the boys and girls cooperate, and the professionals say this is the best way to treat such youth – with kindness. Unfortunately, some of the youth are infrequently involved in incidents. As part of our ongoing discussions with the local police commander and his senior officers, we have been working to hold talks about the subject to find a proper way to increase enforcement against those youths who do not cooperate.
"The petition to the High Court of Justice against the municipality was passed on to the city's legal adviser and we will respond when we decide to do so.
"The "population screening committee," whether it exists or not, is not under the aegis of the municipality and the municipality has nothing to do with it.
The Committee of Beitar Illit's response: "Our activity is voluntarily and provides moral support for the municipal system. The municipality's response will suffice for us.
Judea and Samaria District Police said: "Due to the nature of these matters, we cannot provide details about ongoing investigations regarding any particular person. We totally reject the claim that Nissim Haddad's job gives him preferential treatment. Our investigators work on every complaint thoroughly, professionally and without bias, and each incident is checked based on the gathering and piecing together of evidence.
"That said, in light of the Beitar Illit residents' feeling that some complaints were not handled properly, they will be re-examined and if fault is found, it will be corrected."
The Transportation Ministry's response about gender segregation: "Beitar Illit is included in an arrangement set by the High Court Justice. According to the voluntary agreement set by the court, the Transportation Ministry does not interfere in the seating arrangements inside the buses and while boarding them, so long as it is done voluntarily by the passengers, not by force. The ministry is not familiar with elements overseeing the separation and coercion of passengers. If such actions are taking place, a specific complaints must be made to the Transportation Ministry."
The Housing and Construction Minister's response about population screening committees: "From several checks we carried out, the minister's office doesn't know about these screening committees, even where it's done by turning a blind eye to the process. We don't recognize or know about them. "
"Realistically, it's inconceivable that someone could prevent someone from signing up and compete for price tenders for residents of new housing project, where eligibility is set by personal considerations and equal criteria, in a supervised manner. If the phenomenon exists, we'd be happy to hear about it, and it will most certainly be properly treated."
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