The Committee to Save Beit Shemesh submitted a petition on Thursday to halt the
construction of a new neighborhood in Beit Shemesh it says is designated for
The group lodged the appeal with the National Council for
Planning and Construction of the Ministry of the Interior. It claims that the
proposed neighborhood, currently called Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel 2, is being
designed specifically for the ultra-Orthodox sector and will change the
demographic balance of the city.
“The appellants, representing the
interests of thousands of residents of Beit Shemesh, are requesting that their
city be saved... from the joint plan of the central authorities and the
municipal authorities to designate Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel 2 for the
ultra-Orthodox population alone, without having received a governmental decision
[to that end] and without lawful authority,” read the appeal, which was lodged
against the decision made by the Jerusalem Regional Committee for Planning and
Rabbi Dov Lipman, who heads the Committee to Save Beit
Shemesh, pointed to an official document from the Construction and Housing
Ministry dated September 2009 that he said indicated the neighborhood would be
geared to the haredi population.
The document was addressed to Beit
Shemesh City Councilman Moshe Montag of the haredi Degel Hatorah party who holds
the city’s housing portfolio.
“In light of the possibility that that
[Ramat Beit Shemesh] Gimmel 2 will be populated by an ultra-Orthodox population,
an evaluation has been conducted of the program for public spaces [in the
neighborhood] in accordance with the character of this population,” the document
The letter recommends that the Beit Shemesh Municipality approve
the plans for public spaces in Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel, which provide for
numerous religious establishments and educational institutes such as yeshivot,
mikvaot (ritual baths) and synagogues.
Lipman told The Jerusalem Post
that “at the very least, the document shows that the original plans for the
neighborhood were designed for the ultra-orthodox sector.” The Committee to Save
Beit Shemesh is a community group seeking to address the encroachment of radical
haredi elements upon parts of the city.
Municipality spokesman Mati
Rosentzveig sharply criticized the appeal and said that it was causing
unwarranted argument and unnecessary delays.
“The thinking behind the
submission of this appeal is that if they repeat the same lies over and over
again, eventually those lies will be accepted by the public as true,” he told
“The mayor, the municipality administration, the Housing
Ministry and the Israel Lands Authority have all openly said that the market is
open to everyone,” he continued, labeling the claims of the petition “false and
Lipman emphasized that his organization “is not opposed to the
construction of housing for the ultra- Orthodox in Ramat Beit Shemesh, but
demands that an entire neighborhood not be designated from the outset for just
According to Lipman more than 7,400 people have submitted
objections to the plans for the new neighborhood.
The committee is also
arguing that there are other flaws in the plan, stating that areas of natural
beauty will be despoiled by the new construction and that plans for the city
lack sufficient transportation infrastructure.
The committee hired a city
planner to submit an alternate plan which would overcome these issues and design
a neighborhood which would accommodate different sectors of the population as
well as the ultra- Orthodox. The alternate plan was submitted as part of the
The petition the committee submitted to the National Council for
Planning and Construction claims that the nature of the plans for the new
neighborhood illustrates how it is being designed specifically with
ultra-Orthodox residents in mind.
Attorney Rafi Ettinger, representing
the Committee to Save Beit Shemesh, pointed to the 22 synagogues being planned
for Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel 2 amid the proposed 1,800 housing units. Speaking
to the Post, Ettinger claimed that this number represents a higher ratio of
synagogues per unit than would be found in neighborhoods designed for a broader
Additionally, the petition points out that the absence of
high-rise residential towers also indicates that the neighborhood is being
designed for the ultra-Orthodox since that population will not use an elevator
on Shabbat. The large number of plots designated for educational institutes also
points to an ultra-Orthodox market, the petitioners say, since all haredi
schools are gender separate, requiring twice as many school premises as secular
Ettinger also claimed that the close proximity of
residential housing units to each other and the small number of open and green
areas also reflect plans to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox who are less
concerned with such issues.
Rosentzveig rejected these claims and said
that the petition was being filed because the opponents of the plans “have a
‘hatred of haredim’ problem and are simply afraid of market forces.” He argued
that the severe lack of classroom space in the older Beit Shemesh neighborhoods
has led to the current situation in which 300 classrooms are held in
prefabricated caravilla-style buildings, a problem which the plans for Ramat
Beit Shemesh Gimmel 2 try to avoid.
“When plans were submitted for [Ramat
Beit Shemesh Gimmel 1, which is now under construction, it was originally slated
to be one-third for the secular community, one-third for the national-religious
and one third for the ultra-Orthodox,” Rosentzveig said.
“But because of
opposition by the same people, the High Court of Justice eventually outlawed any
predetermination of neighborhoods for specific sectors, and so this time the
municipality guaranteed that it would not intervene and allow contractors to
build as they see fit.
“It’s the same opponents this time round and they
know that there is not much chance for these ridiculous appeals, they want just
want to delay the neighborhood and get media attention,” he added.
Committee to Save Beit Shemesh says that it only took the issue to court
because, it claims, the municipality had reneged on the agreement and the
neighborhood was being reserved for the ultra- Orthodox.
noted that plans were also being advanced in the municipality for the
construction of 1,300 units in the city’s Bialik neighborhood for the general
population as well as 330 units near the entrance of the city, also for the