Members of the Beit Shemesh Haredi community arrived at the Safot V’Tarbuyot school Thursday night and dismantled a barrier that was serving as a partition between ultra-Orthodox and secular students amid a controversy that recently drove the Ministry of Education to postpone the school's opening.
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The destruction of the partition came just hours after the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem effectively handed the Haredis a victory by rejecting a request from the Education Ministry to close classrooms that were organized specifically for ultra-Orthodox students, separating them from the secular students.
Tearing down the wall. (Photo: Nahshon Philipson)
"The fence was constructed at the request of the school, but it was taken out of proportion and used by parties with interests in creating conflict," said Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul. "As a gesture of reconciliation, I instructed the removal of the fence which has already managed to get the nickname "wall", and I hope that as a result, the wall between the sides will fall as well."
The judge in Jerusalem decided that the case didn't fall under the Magistrates jurisdiction and should be passed down to the Municipal Court in Beit Shemesh. As the indirect result of the legal decision, a wall that was constructed in the Safot V'Tarbuyot school to divide the Haredi classrooms from the secular ones, will remain for the time being.
The creation of Haredi classrooms as well as the construction of the separating wall recently created controversy in the community, causing the Education Ministry to postpone the opening of the school for the 2014-2015 school year and to make a legal case demanding the closure of the special classrooms and destruction of the wall.
Parents of secular students in Beit Shemesh were also angered by the developments, but Vice President of Jerusalem's Magistrates Court, Judge Gad Ehrenberg, said Thursday that the Education Ministry's case fell outside its jurisdiction. "I came to the conclusion that this court has no authority to discuss this request," said Ehrenberg.
"The ownership of school structures and the right to use them is subject to the municipality of Beit Shemesh," the judge explained. "Therefore, the plaintiff (the Education Ministry) has no claim to original ownership or use of the school."
The school also planned to open a wing of the Haredi section specifically for women to learn. The municipality in Beit Shemesh welcomed the decision from the Magistrates court, calling it a "victory for the hundreds of young girls that the Education Ministry put out on the street."
The partition in a Beit Shemesh school, separating the Haredi students from the secular ones. (Photo: Nahshon Philipson)
Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul called on the Education Ministry, "to come to their senses and cooperate with the actions of the municipality for the good of the population living in the city."
Earlier Thursday, Abutbul claimed that the separation within the school represented "a partition, not a wall." According to him, "This isn't a wall and not plaster. It's just a partition to prevent people from throwing things at each other. This isn't how you build a wall."
The Education Ministry said in a statement that the Haredi wing is illegal and that they strongly oppose what they termed as "underhanded opportunism" on the part of the local authority.
"Their conduct is one-sided and blatant. We intend to make use of all possible means at our disposal to deal with this issue," the statement issued by the office said.
The municipality of Beit Shemesh said in response: "We saw fit to use empty classrooms in the school to accommodate female students who have nowhere to learn." The statement issued by the municipality added that the school building has the capacity to accommodate 500 students, while only 144 are enrolled.