Hundreds of Beit Shemesh residents protested in the city on Monday against what
they say is the city’s caving in to pressure from the local haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) population which threatens to leave the doors of a local girls’
school shuttered come September 1.
Two years ago ground was broken to build a branch of the Orot Banot national religious girls school. The ground-breaking was met by fierce protests on the part of some of the city’s haredi residents, irate about the presence of the national religious school within what they say is the confines of their neighborhood, as well as due to the fact that it would be a girls' school.
The Beit Shemesh parents committee said Monday that a
week ago the municipality and the Education Ministry reached an agreement that
the building will house the Orot Banot school for girls. The mayor even sent a
letter congratulating the committee, but days later it received a letter from
the mayor’s office asking them not to have the girls study there on September 1,
due to the threat of violence from haredi extremists. The committee said that it
then held a meeting with the mayor in which members said he felt his hands were
tied by the extremists, and he asked them to settle on a
Locals say that a number of haredi extremists also broke into
the building and began squatting there after it became apparent that the girls’
school would open.
‘Ruth’, a mother of two elementary school boys
studying at the national religious school, said that the city’s Mayor Moshe
Abutbul has caved to pressure on the part of a small minority of haredi
extremists within the city.
“Since the mayor was elected as a haredi
mayor there is a feeling that haredi people are getting more advantages than the
national religious residents. We don’t object to them having their own schools
or buildings, just we want our own as well.
“I think that the feeling is
that they [haredi extremists] are trying to make it a haredi city and trying to
use all means to do so. The threats of violence against the girls seems to have
worked because they got want they wanted which is the city’s refusing to let the
girls have the school.”
In a statement sent to The Jerusalem Post
Monday, the Beit Shemesh municipality said “the schoolhouse in question is
located in a haredi neighborhood.
Residents of the neighborhood maintain
that the building belongs to the haredi residents and was built on public land
allocated for the neighborhood.
In spite of this, the mayor is interested
in parceling this land to the national religious school ‘Sha’alei Torah Banim’.
To our dismay, Sha’alei Torah is not showing the necessary flexibility to this
and is insisting on building a girl’s school within the building.”
municipality added that “it is worth noting that when construction of the
building began two years ago, there were fierce demonstrations held at the scene
by neighborhood residents who blocked the scene with their bodies and stopped
the work at the site. The mayor took note of the situation and worked a great
deal between the two sides in order to reach a compromise.”
added that the mayor “also offered Sha’alei Torah a series of benefits in order
to get them to accept a compromise, but at the moment, they are violating that
agreement and leading to an unnecessary dispute between the
The statement continued: “In response to the threat of
violence, the mayor said ‘the police have passed on intelligence saying that
there are threats to the safety and security of the girls who will study in the
building, due to the expected violent actions of extremists. The mayor has asked
for the police’s help in securing the citizens of Bet Shemesh and the city hall
has sought to quiet the area and populate the building solely in keeping with
the agreement reached between the two sides.”
Mati Rozenzweig, a
spokesman for the municipality said Monday that the mayor, the national
religious leader and local haredi leaders managed to reach an agreement a year
and a half ago following protests by local haredim, under which the building
would be for boys only, and the girls would study elsewhere.
said that the new building is only one of three being built as part of the
Sha’alei Torah chain and that there is no shortage of school rooms for students
from the school system.
He also said that one compromise was to have the
girls study at an all boys Sha’ale Torah school in nearby Ramat Beit Shemesh,
and to have the boys at that school study at on the coed campus that is at the
heart of the controversy.
He said that what went wrong is that national
religious protesters broke into the school and began squatting there, at which
time they were met by haredi protesters who also broke in.
When asked if
the city hall was surrendering to extremists, Rozenzweig drew a comparison to
the rocket attacks on the South, saying, “when there were rockets falling on
Ashkelon and they canceled school, was this surrendering to terror? We are in
favor of any compromise that brings quiet to the city.”
Yossi Green, a
father of three who lives in the second building down from the school, said he
opposes its opening.
“I am very against there being a school. I pay
mortgage every month, and this facility is on our property, so who does it
belong to? The ones who live here. I can’t walk in the streets here with my
children because there are women in the street who are religious, but not in
This is not the education that I am teaching my
He added, “I am not a person to go to demonstrations or to
throw rocks, but I will have to move if this school opens.”
Ministry told the Post
on Monday that the school under controversy Orot Neria
will open this year’s studies on September 1, just like the rest of the schools