BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — The local residents still cannot understand what has come over their city. They wonder how it could be that the tolerant city of new immigrants has become a battle scene between its secular and ultra-Orthodox inhabitants, which is liable to give rise to a crisis that only one of the rivaling sides may survive. Given the current state of affairs, it is already clear to all and sundry that if the ultra-Orthodox influx into the city keeps on at the present rate, it will change the face of Beit Shemesh, and the city will become the largest ultra-Orthodox city in Israel — even larger than Bnei Brak, where the majority of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel are currently concentrated.
The peaceful coexistence in the city, which lies about 20 kilometers [roughly 12.5 miles] west of Jerusalem, was first shaken when ultra-Orthodox residents harassed a religious girl who was on her way to school. It happened two years ago. The girl, who comes from a religious family, was attacked by ultra-Orthodox residents who even spat on her just because she was not pious enough in their eyes. And when her mother rushed to protect her, she too was assaulted by young ultra-Orthodox men who called on her to leave the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.