A three-judge High Court panel overturned the jail sentences yesterday of 13 mothers of students at the religious girls school in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel. The jail terms of nine other mothers convicted of contempt of court have been delayed until their husbands are released. An additional hearing on enforcing the High Court order to ethnically integrate studies at the school has been set for Sunday.
Last week, judges demanded that Ashkenazi parents who refused to let their daughters attend classes with their Sephardi peers return their daughters to school or face a two-week prison term.
Yesterday a group of the mothers who had requested the hearing met privately with judges Edmond Levy, Edna Arbel and Hanan Melcer. The judges were provided with copies of recent statements Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had made in favor of exempting the mothers from prison terms.
Weinstein had reached his decision based on recommendations from Social Affairs Ministry officials who had determined that the mothers should be spared jail terms in the interest of their children. A similar position was presented to the court by the National Council for the Child.
Ami Barber, the father of a student at the Beit Yaakov school, had requested to be exempt from serving time because his infant son is receiving treatment for a heart condition.
"There is an atmosphere here of persecuting Jews," he said yesterday after the request was rejected. Barber is one of two fathers who, unlike 35 others, had refused to turn themselves over to authorities and have been given until July 5 to report to a Jerusalem jail.
Yehudit Weinberg, one of the students' mothers, said, "Is it normal to put mothers in jail? For what? We won't sign any agreement for integrating studies. That's what our rabbis have instructed us to do. The law is not above the rabbis - the rabbis are above the law."
Likewise, Barber added that the parents intend to seek counsel from their rabbis on the matter, and to follow whatever advice they are given.
Aviad Hacohen, the attorney representing Yoav Laloum, who petitioned for the school to be opened to Sephardi girls, said yesterday, "The court's decision to temporarily delay the mothers' incarceration reflects the desire of all involved to avoid punishing the parents."
"The High Court's decision is a slap in the face to these women," said one of the parents yesterday.
Avraham Luria - a member of the Slonim Hasidic sect which many of the parents involved in the case belong to - added, "The moment they demanded that these women sign a High Court order rather than obey the Torah, the outcome was clear."
"Today they came to the High Court in the name of compassion, in the name of the small children. The court isn't interested in compassion. It's ignoring the advice of every welfare official and taking this issue to absurd lengths of punishment," Luria said. "What do they want of these women? Does a woman determine where her children will study in the ultra-Orthodox community? What do the judges expect from them? The High Court is pursuing a vendetta. This is a campaign of vengeance and persecution that has never been seen before."
Luria also expressed resentment at the judges' decision to deny Barber's request to be exempt from serving time.
"How do you put a father in jail when his son has a heart problem? What do they want from Barber? How do three Supreme Court judges dare sign such an order? People are lying as if they're in nursery school. It really is a campaign of vengeance and persecution."
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