(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
An east Jerusalem boys' school at the center of a year-long legal battle between neighborhood residents and the Jerusalem Municipality must be moved to a new location within two weeks, according to a ruling handed down last week by the Supreme Court.
The ruling at a hearing last Friday demanded that the municipality and the Education Ministry find a sustainable solution to the problem of the Shuafat Boys' School, which residents have called an unacceptable and even dangerous location in which to continue holding classes. The urgency expressed by the court was based on the approaching start of the 2009 school year, set for September 1.
The grammar school, located near the Shuafat refugee camp and in that neighborhood's industrial zone, was previously used as a goat pen. Pupils and their families, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) - two NGOs that intervened on residents' behalf - maintained that the school had been unable to operate the entire academic year, as it sits next to a toxin-emitting metal factory constituting a severe health hazard.
When the school year began last fall, complaints were made about sharp metallic odors inside the building, headaches, dizziness, burning eyes and other health problems the pupils and staff claimed were a direct result of the school's proximity to the metal factory. A few days after the complaints were made, the school's parent-teacher association decided to close the facility down altogether.
But according to Shuafat residents and both NGOs, the municipality and the ministry have refused to provide an alternative location for classes, saying that the building was up to code and was operating according to regulations.
That response has now been effectively canceled by the Supreme Court's ruling, and residents and NGO members said they were cautiously optimistic that a solution may truly be on its way.
"How long do we expect children to suffer without adequate access to a clean and healthy environment in which to learn?" said Tali Nir, an ACRI lawyer who spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "The time has long passed for a solution to be found; the school year is beginning soon, and we simply do not have the option to continue this travesty into another year."
Nir also emphasized that had the appeal not been taken to the Supreme Court, it was likely that nothing would have changed.
"We spent a year fighting the municipality and the Education Ministry in the Administrative Court, and to no avail," she said. "Only when we went to the Supreme Court did things begin to turn around. But that said, the municipality has yet to offer any real alternative here, so we're going to have to wait and see what really happens in two weeks."
The Jerusalem Municipality said in a statement that it would respond to the Supreme Court's ruling when the follow-up hearing was held in two weeks.
Jameel Sanduka, who heads the Shuafat Neighborhood Committee, and whose children attend the school, told the Post last week that he wasn't expecting much of a change to come with the Supreme Court's ruling. On Sunday, however, he said he was more optimistic.
"It's great news," Sanduka said. "It's really great. I just hope they really do find a solution."