Parents in three elementary schools in south Tel Aviv have come out in protest against a plan to absorb 110 African refugee children into their schools, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. The parents say their schools are weak enough as it is, and the refugee children should be sent to schools in other parts of Tel Aviv as well. According to the report, municipal education officials have been working on a plan to absorb 110 refugee children into several elementary schools in south Tel Aviv. But parents from the Hagalil, Hayarden and Nofim schools have all objected to the idea, saying their schools are already weak and the influx of a group of even weaker students would be disastrous. City councilor Shlomo Maslawi has also joined in the parents' protests, writing to the schools to tell them they should refuse to cooperate with the plan. Maslawi wrote that there was "a trend to harm children in the south," and said he and parents would not accept the refugee children "even if this forces us to close the gates of the schools in the south of the city." A parents' representative said parents in the south wanted to help absorb the refugee children, but it was not fair that the children should all be concentrated in this one area. He said the refugee children should be distributed equally in schools throughout Tel Aviv, and the number allowed into any one school should be limited so that local children would not begin to feel they were in a minority. "There needs to be a certain standard and a certain number of refugees who come to study in schools in the south," he said. No comment was reported from the municipality. Builders win fight to have fines canceled After years of fighting city hall, Tel Aviv's building contractors have won a battle to have thousands of parking fines imposed upon them canceled, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Tel Aviv. Some of the fines, which go back 10 or more years, had swollen to more than NIS 100,000 each. According to the report, the struggle began over the city's demand that building contractors clear away the waste from their work sites while at the same time refusing to allow them to place garbage dumpsters in car-parking spaces to enable them to do so. In many cases, the car-parking area was the only place where there was room for a large dumpster. The city insisted that the contractors attach a parking card to each dumpster, as if it were a vehicle, and if there was no card or if it had expired, inspectors would issue a parking fine. Many contractors refused to pay the fines, which accumulated interest and penalty fees. Finally, a group of 13 contractors decided that they had had enough, and took the city to the Tel Aviv District Court. After protracted discussions, they recently succeeded in forcing the city into a compromise, to which the court has given the force of law. Under the compromise, building contractors will be allowed to place dumpsters in parking spaces as long as they are not in disabled parking spots and as long as they do not block pedestrian crossings or bus stops. All the old fines imposed on builders who placed dumpsters in regular parking spaces will be canceled, while those who placed dumpsters in disabled spots or at bus stops will still have to pay the fines, but will not have to pay interest or penalty fees. "I am happy that after years of battling, the city has finally come to an arrangement with us," a builders' representative said. "I personally have been fighting the city for more than 10 years over fines that were issued to me. â€¦ We have now committed ourselves to abide by the conditions decided in the compromise agreement and to park the dumpsters only in the permitted places. This agreement is excellent for the city and for the builders, and most importantly serves residents of the city." No comment was reported from the city. Factory fire sends smoke across city Almost 50 firefighters fought for more than five hours to control a massive fire that broke out in an industrial building in south Tel Aviv this week, reports www.local.co.il. The blaze erupted suddenly in the four-storey building near the central bus station last Saturday afternoon, and quickly threatened to spread to neighboring buildings. Firefighters were called in from Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Holon to control the fire, which sent billowing clouds of black smoke across much of Tel Aviv. The building, which houses a textile factory, a shoe factory and a printer's workshop, was severely damaged by the fire and police closed off the area while municipal engineers began checking whether the building might collapse. Home alone â€¦Israeli style A north Tel Aviv mother who went to pick her five-year-old son up from kindergarten one afternoon, only to discover that he was not there, became alarmed and sent her husband and police scurrying to look for the boy, reports www.local.co.il. But when the frantic parents arrived back at their Ramat Aviv Gimmel house with police to discuss what to do next, they were amazed to discover the little boy there, happily playing with his toys and unaware of any fuss around his "disappearance." According to the report, the confusion began after the mother left for work early that morning, expecting her husband to awaken their son and take him to kindergarten. Some time later, the father left for work, thinking his wife had taken their son to kindergarten and not realizing that the child was still asleep in his room. When the boy eventually woke up, he reportedly wondered why he was alone, but occupied himself by playing with his toys. The report said that after the boy was discovered at home, police detained the parents for questioning, but when it became clear that the incident had been a one-off occurrence caused by a misunderstanding, they released the parents without pressing any charges. Court makes historic ruling on cellphone antennas The Tel Aviv District Court has made an unprecedented ruling requiring cellphone companies to receive building approval even for small antennas and to report the locations of so-called "wireless access mechanisms" on rooftops, reports www.local.co.il. Herzliya Mayor Yael German, who has led the fight against the cellphone companies, hailed the ruling as a "historic decision that will create justice for the public." According to the report, until now cellphone companies wishing to erect antennas on rooftops have avoided the legal requirement to receive building approval from local councils by hiding the antennas inside small boxes they term "wireless access mechanisms." Such access mechanisms are legally exempt from the need for local building approval, and the report said more than 1,000 of them have been installed across Israel over the past two years. Some years ago, the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court upheld the exemptions. But the Herzliya and Ramat Gan city councils appealed against the decision to the Tel Aviv District Court, saying the so-called "access mechanisms" are nothing but a ruse by the cellphone companies to avoid their obligation to inform the public of the locations of antennas and to avoid supervision by local authorities. The case continued for almost three years, until last week when the court came to its landmark decision. The report said that although some magistrates' courts in Israel have supported the local authorities' positions in the past, this is the first time a higher court has done so, and its decision is binding and wide-ranging. Mayor German said she was delighted with the decision. "I see in the court's decision a historic decision that will create justice for the public and will stop the cellphone companies from defrauding the general citizenry of Israel," German said. "This ruling is proof that if you are determined and if you fight a just war for your rights, in the end you will win." No comment was reported from the cellphone companies. Parents angry on special needs kindergarten move Parents of children at two special education kindergartens in Kfar Saba are furious that the city is planning to move their children to different premises on the other side of town so that their buildings can be used as regular kindergartens, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Hasharon. The parents say it is unfair that their children should suffer because the city finds it more profitable to run a regular kindergarten for 30 children than a special needs kindergarten for a small number of children. According to the report, Kfar Saba runs 13 special education kindergartens, but when the coming school year opens this September it plans to move two of them out of the center of the city to the Yoseftal neighborhood on the other side of town. "Because we are in a minority, it is easier to move us," one parent of a special needs child complained. "For the city it pays better to have a regular long-day kindergarten with 30 children instead of our kindergarten, with a limited number of children." The parents said the extra distance they would need to travel would cause them and their children a great deal of hardship, and even more importantly, would deter the current "excellent" kindergarten teacher from moving with the children. A municipal spokesman responded that the number of children in need of kindergartens in the center of the city had been rising in recent years, and because special education children were entitled to subsidized transport it was more logical to move them to other premises further away, and to use their buildings for the benefit of regular children. Name changes stir up a storm Despite the objections of dozens of residents and some councilors, Netanya's Municipal Names Committee has voted to change the names of two streets in the city, reports www.local.co.il. In the first controversial case, the committee overrode the protests of many residents and some councilors and decided to change the current Rehov Max Nordau to that of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. According to the report, the protesters said that while they had no intrinsic objection to the idea of a street being named after the Lubavitcher Rebbe, this should not be at the expense of a Zionist pioneer such as Max Nordau, who founded the World Zionist Organization together with Theodor Herzl. They said they were still hopeful that the city council would overturn the decision and decide to keep the Nordau name. In the second case, the committee also ignored protests and decided to change the current Rehov Orzim to Sderot Tet-Lamed, the Hebrew acronym for Tom Lantos, the Jewish US Congressman who died in February this year, aged 80. The Hungarian-born Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor ever to have served in the US House of Representatives. Ra'anana's green thumb gets a thumbs-up Ra'anana has been chosen as one of the 10 greenest cities in Israel by a number of leading companies involved in environmental work, reports www.local.co.il. The "Green Gardens" (Ganim Yerukim) magazine and the organizers of the coming "CleanTech 2008" conference surveyed leading companies involved in environmental improvement, gardening and landscaping to obtain the results. According to the report, the companies voted for Ra'anana because of its emphasis on gardens, landscaping and beautification. The city's work will be officially recognized at a ceremony at the international "CleanTech 2008" conference, which takes place on June 3 and 4 at the Avenue congress center in Kiryat Sdeh Hate'ufa (Airport City) near Ben-Gurion Airport. Municipal elections deferred to Nov. 11 The Knesset last week approved a one-week deferral in the date of the coming municipal elections, reports www.local.co.il. By law, the municipal elections are supposed to be held on the Hebrew date of Heshvan 3, but this year that date corresponds with November 4, the secular anniversary of the 1995 murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Deferring the elections requires the passing of a special law, and last week the Knesset approved that law, postponing the municipal elections to Tuesday, November 11. City 'steels' itself for more metal thefts Police and the municipality of Haifa are losing the war against the city's metal thieves, reports the Hebrew weekly Yediot Haifa. Dozens of drains around the city have been left without covers because of the thefts, posing a danger to unwary pedestrians and passing vehicles, and the city is finding that it no sooner replaces them than they are stolen once again. According to the report, the annual cost of the metal thefts is in the millions of shekels, with the thieves taking any metal they can find, including memorial plaques, safety rails, water pipes, electricity poles and even old tractors. Lately the thieves have focused on drain covers, and in virtually every neighborhood of Haifa there are open drains in which pedestrians or vehicles may be caught. Numerous residents have complained to the city, but it has been able to offer only the "cosmetic" solution of marking off danger spots with a red ribbon and a warning sign. A municipal spokesman said the wave of metal thefts was continuous and was growing, and was causing "immense damage." He said that in the past few months alone, more than 600 drain covers had been stolen, worth a total of NIS 500,000. The spokesman said it would take about four months for new steel covers to arrive, and in the meantime the city was experimenting with the idea of temporarily covering the open drains with fiberglass covers. The spokesman said that because of the thefts the city was trying to replace metal with other substances wherever possible, in particular using concrete instead of copper for memorials, and was working with police to fight the phenomenon. The report said that apart from drain covers, electrical cables and fire hydrants have also been stolen. Firefighters said the hydrant thefts pose a real risk of fires raging out of control, with one such example having occurred on April 8. That fire, a result of metal thefts, took three days to bring under control. And an Israel Electricity Corporation spokesman said the thefts of electrical cables and poles were costing about NIS 8 million per year and were endangering human lives. A police spokesman said that while a number of storage sites for stolen metal had been found by police and a number of arrests had been made, the phenomenon was still growing worse. "Even with the best will, it is impossible to put a policeman on every street and at every sewerage drain," the spokesman said. Factory gets NIS 2m. boost The National Insurance Institute is spending NIS 2 million to renovate and equip a factory that employs 250 mentally handicapped people in the central Hadar neighborhood of Haifa, reports Yediot Haifa. The investment will enable the Ofek Industries factory to hire more employees and to upgrade its equipment. According to the report, the factory manufactures goods for the Israel Defense Forces, and last year produced items worth NIS 4 million. An NII social worker said the mentally handicapped employees were "quiet people, who if given the chance can blend into society and even contribute much more than people know." Most of the employees live independently in areas near the factory. Arab book fair opens The Beit Hagefen Jewish-Arab center in central Haifa opened its traditional Arab book fair last week - and for the first time contains no books that incite against the State of Israel or against the Israel Defense Forces, reports Yediot Haifa. The center's Jewish and Arab managers said everyone had agreed that the idea of the fair was to display literature and culture, and it had been decided not to exhibit material that was "likely to be harmful to the public at large." In the past, displays of books describing Jews as "sons of snakes" have outraged local residents, but this year managers said every book had been vetted for incitement. The month-long Arab book fair coincides with Hebrew Book Week, which runs from May 28 to June 7. Major upgrade planned for Atlit The Hof Hacarmel regional council has embarked on a project to renovate 162 old apartments and build 163 more in the central Atlit area, reports Yediot Haifa. The upgrading of the historic but rundown area, which has not been improved since it was built in the 1960s, is expected to be completed within four years. A municipal spokesman said the project was of great public importance and would turn the area "into a pearl of beauty." Atlit, 20 km south of Haifa, is best known as the site of a British Mandate-era detention camp in which illegal Jewish immigrants were held in the 1930s and 1940s. The town, which today has a population of about 4,500, was declared a local council in 1950 and was incorporated into the Hof Hacarmel regional council in 2004. Man fined, put on probation over pet "suicide" A 61-year-old Haifa man has been sentenced to eight months' probation and has been fined NIS 10,000 after his pet Dalmatian was killed when it fell from the window of his fourth-floor apartment, reports Yediot Haifa. The man claimed the dog had "committed suicide," but the Haifa magistrates' court heard that he had thrown the pet from the window, and found him guilty of animal abuse. The judge ordered the man to pay the fine to the Ministry for Environmental Protection's animal welfare fund, or face a 100-day jail term.