The playground, which was built by the Construction Ministry, is located between the haredi Heftziba neighborhood and the Migdal Hamayim neighborhood, which consists of secular and national-religious residents, and has been the focus of a dispute between the two populations.
Following the haredi residents' claims of "immodest acts" taking place on the playground, the place has been targeted by vandals who covered the pathways with tar, removed benches and uprooted poles. As a result, the playground was shut down.
Following the shutdown, the Beit Shemesh Municipality and the Construction Ministry reached an agreement that the area would be fenced in a way that would conceal it from the haredi neighborhood. According to the municipality, the agreement was reached with the consent of the residents of the relevant neighborhoods.
'No room for walls in Beit Shemesh'But secular and religious residents are protesting the arrangement, claiming that there is no room for "separation walls" in the city.
Yaniv Fogel, chairman of the municipal parents' leadership, told Ynet: "We have experience from the erection of a 'separation fence' between seculars and haredim in a local school. This is being repeated now, and we don’t like it. We think the key to success is for all populations to live together."
According to Fogel, the municipality must change its decision. "We have appealed to the municipality to remove the sealed fence," he says. "It's creating a buzz in the city. I see the way this is being handled. It bothers me as a resident, not as the chairman of the parents' leadership, because this is a playground which is intended for the entire public. There is no room for separation walls and fences in Beit Shemesh."
'How can a playground be immodest?'
Beit Shemesh resident Zion Sultan says he appealed to the municipality on the issue, but received no response. "Three separation walls have been built in Beit Shemesh so far. One of them is made out of concrete, in the area where a cultural hall is about to be constructed, near a haredi neighborhood. People have not been exposed to this wall yet because it is covered by the construction site's fence.
"The second fence is in the Languages and Cultures School, and this is the third fence. There is no separation or jute cloth in the park building inside the haredi neighborhood. The only thing is a fence preventing children from reaching the road.
"The jute cloth they placed here is meant to hide those sitting inside the playground. The fence also hides the view from within the playground. Part of a garden's beauty is the landscape, which has now turned into blue jute. How can there be anything immodest about a playground?"
According to Sultan, the residents of the adjacent haredi neighborhood "should put a jute cloth on themselves, and cover their eyes instead of fencing us. None of us enters their neighborhoods and tells them what to do. Why are they doing it in our neighborhood?"
'An attempt to stir up emotions for no reason'
The Beit Shemesh Municipality confirmed the residents' complaints.
"The playground was built by the Construction Ministry and is located between a haredi neighborhood and a secular neighborhood, creating friction between the populations," the municipality said in its response.
"Following a recent dialogue between representatives of the two neighborhoods, it was decided that the park would only serve the secular neighborhood and that the entrance from the haredi neighborhood would be closed. It was also decided that the fence facing the haredi neighborhood would be covered with jute cloth."
The municipality added that it "supports the agreement between the residents of the two neighborhoods and the Construction Ministry, so that everyone will be able to live in dignity side by side. It's a shame that there are people who don't live in the area and are trying to incite and stir up emotions for no reason. This will not help anyone and will not contribute to the city's image."
The Construction Ministry said in response that "during the construction stage, the municipality asked to cover the playground's fences for safety reasons so as not to bother the residents living next to the garden, and that's how the work was conducted by the contractor. We are unaware of the circumstances described in the appeal."