Haredim inside
Photo: Matityahu Promovich, Hadash BeBeit Shemesh
National-religious outside
Photo: Matityahu Promovich, Hadash BeBeit Shemesh

Beit Shemesh: Haredim invade girls' school

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox men protest relocation of state-religious school to building located within their neighborhood. 'This is a battle for city's identity,' one of them says, while religious residents accuse mayor of 'giving in to zealots'

Dozens of Beit Shemesh residents, belonging to radical ultra-Orthodox factions, raided local state-religious school "Orot", in protest of the decision to open it in the coming school year as an educational institution for girls within their neighborhood.


The protestors were confronted by dozens of parents. A violent clash erupted between the two groups, ending only after a police force intervened.


Tempers have been flaring in Beit Shemesh for the past two years, following the decision to relocate the "Orot Banot" school from an area with a majority of national-religious residents to an area bordering the haredi neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet.


החרדים בבית הספר, הבוקר (צילום: מתתיהו פרומוביץ, חדש בבית שמש) 

Haredi residents inside classroom (Photo: Matityahu Promovich, Hadash BeBeit Shemesh)


At first, the haredim opposed the fact that the building, considered part of their neighborhood, would be allotted for the state-religious institution rather than being used by the neighborhood's residents.


The disagreement continued even after a compromise was reached, in light of the haredi objection to the fact that girls would be studying at the school, which is also unacceptable by the municipality.


On Monday morning, the opponents decided to invade the school. When the state-religious residents found out about it, they arrived at the site and began singing Israel's national anthem as an act of provocation against the haredim.


The conflict erupted into a violent brawl, until the police evacuated the invaders and shut down the school – sending the struggle to the street.


עימותים בין חרדים לדתיים-לאומיים (צילום: מתתיהו פרומוביץ, חדש בבית שמש) 

Haredi-religious clash (Photo: Matityahu Promovich, Hadash BeBeit Shemesh)


M., one of the haredi residents, said that almost all factions were united on this issue – including the moderate ones and the mayor.


"This will be a very difficult war, and the haredim will do everything in their power to prevent the school year from opening there – even if forced to barricade themselves inside the building.


"This isn't a struggle over a building or property, which was stolen from us, but over the identity of this city," he said, claiming that the municipality's condition for allotting the area was that only boys would study in the institution.


Ze'ev Moskovich of the "Orot Banot" parents' committee, claimed the building was constructed with Education Ministry funds and allotted by the municipality for this institution, but that haredi Mayor Moshe Abutbul had given in to extremists and won't have girls study there – even in the first to sixth grades.


According to Moskovich, Abutbul admitted in a letter to the school representatives that he is against relocating the "Orot Banot" school to the building only because he could not guarantee the students' safety.


"It's unbelievable that a city in Israel officially gives in to a faction of zealots," said Moskovich.


He added that the harassment against the school was nothing new, and that several acts of vandalism had taken place there, including window shattering. He also said that the school's opponents were "a very small minority, which has even been denounced by the haredi public."


'Agreement violated by religious'

The Beit Shemesh Municipality said in response that despite the residents' strong objection and violent protests, the mayor decided to provide the religious school with a public service belonging to a haredi neighborhood, but that the school network refused to be flexible and insisted on relocating the girls' school there.


"The mayor has delved deeply into the matter and worked to reach a compromise between the sides that the building would house the national-religious boys' school," the municipality said in a statement. The school network was even promised a series of far-reaching benefits in return for their agreement to the compromise, but now they are violating the understandings, leading to unnecessary battles between the residents."


According to the municipality, following the dispute it decided not to allot the building to any institution, but the religious network invaded it illegally – a move which was followed by the invasion of the haredi neighbors. In addition, police officials have warned of acts of violence against the school's students.


"The mayor is working tirelessly to bring both sides to the negotiating table, and find a fair solution which will end the dispute as soon as possible."



פרסום ראשון: 08.30.11, 09:18
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