The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court said on Thursday that it is not within its authority to prevent the Beit Shemesh Municipality from using a section of a secular school it partitioned without the consent of the Ministry of Education earlier this week.
Judge Gad Arenberg said in his opinion that the school is legally owned by the Beit Shemesh Municipality and that the claims by the ministry were administrative in nature and should be addressed to an administrative court.
The case has aroused consternation on both sides of the communal divide in the tempestuous city and is the latest in a long series of mutual grievances between the rapidly expanding haredi population and the secular and national-religious residents.
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul presented the ruling as a victory but it is still unclear what will happen on Sunday morning.
The ministry immediately appealed the case to the Jerusalem District Court.
A spokesman for the Beit Shemesh Municipality said that as far as it was concerned the girls from Mishkenot Daat could attend school in the section of Safot VeTarbuyot that was partitioned for them. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education said that it still opposed such a situation but acknowledged that the Jerusalem Magistrate Court’s injunction has now been removed.
Last Sunday night, the eve of the new academic year, municipality construction workers separated the two floors of the state-run, largely secular Safot Vetarbuyot school and a erected a 2.5-meter high wall in order to house approximately 100 pupils of the Mishkenot Daat haredi girls school.
Security guards accompanied the construction workers, who broke locks to gain access to the premises and man-handled some of the teachers who protested the partition.
Following the ruling, Abutbul instructed municipal workers to remove the wall in the schoolyard, which was indeed taken down on Thursday night. The two groups of pupils remained separate, however.
The municipality said it partitioned the school because there was no other available classroom space in the town.
It stated that, while the school has just 144 pupils enrolled, it has the capacity to hold 500 pupils.
On Tuesday, the ministry requested asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to issue an injunction against the municipality ordering it to use the Safot Vetarbuyot school only with the express permission of the ministry. A temporary injunction was granted preventing Mishkenot Daat from using Safot Vetarbuyot’s premises pending a final ruling on the matter.
In its request to the court, the ministry argued that, even though the Safot Vetarbuyot school building is owned by the Beit Shemesh Municipality, the ministry had paid all the costs of its construction.
Therefore, it argued, current regulations stipulate that the municipality is not authorized to divide up the school in contravention of the ministry’s stated policy.
The counsel for the municipality argued that the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, since there was no argument over the ownership of the property, and said the ministry’s claims should be addressed either to an administrative court or the High Court of Justice.
Judge Arenberg agreed, but noted that he was not awarding costs the municipality, as would normally be the case, because “of the manner in which the defendant carried out the partition of the school, on the last night of the [summer] vacation, and in light of the fact that it was clear to [the municipality] that partitioning the school was against the position of the plaintiff.”
The ministry said in response that it would be filing an appeal Thursday night to the Jerusalem District Court on the matter.
“The Ministry of Education sees the thuggish and illegitimate behavior of the local authority as a development that should be halted immediately,” it said in a statement.