The Ultra-Orthodox Western Wall
This editorial at Ynetnews gives one side’s perspective on how the Western Wall prayer plaza came to be controlled by the ultra-orthodox.
Here’s a snippet:
But then, for the first time in its history, iron barricades were placed in the forward part of the plaza, close to the Kotel itself. This was the first mehitzah, the first separation between men and women, in the history of the Kotel. There had already been such attempts in the past. At the end of Turkish rule and under the British Mandate attempts had been made to separate between the sexes in the area next to the Kotel, but they failed. During most of those years when Jews had access to the Western Wall and during those years when they did not, there was never a mehitzah at the Kotel. But now a mehitzah was put up, which put aside most of the area - and the best part thereof - for the use of the men; barricades were put up to mark the entrances; and ushers were placed to assure the separation and to distribute paper kippot to those men who wished to approach the Kotel itself.
The escalation of more recent years is due particularly to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, known as the “Rabbi of the Kotel.” He did not invent anything, but he perfected the system: swearing-in ceremonies of the IDF became fewer and further between; an attempt was made to separate the sexes at the ceremony in which new immigrants received their identity cards; signs calling for modesty were posted in every corner; Israeli flags suddenly disappeared (and meanwhile were returned). Most of world Jewry is not Orthodox, but the rabbi of the holiest place in the world to the Jewish people is Orthodox - and not just ordinary Orthodox, but Haredi.
The full editorial is here.
Jews praying at Western Wall, early 1900s
Source: The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection: Jerusalem
Western Wall prayer area, April 1968
Source: Views That Have Vanished