Beit Shemesh school parents Gili Cohen Magen 29811
Parents outside the 'Orot' girls' school in Beit Shemesh, August 29, 2011. Photo by Gili Cohen-Magen
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Violent confrontations erupted Monday afternoon between hundreds of parents of students at a religious school for girls in Beit Shemesh and a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters, who arrived at the school on Sunday night and who have refused to move. The protesters object to the presence of the girls in the area, although they themselves live in a different part of the city.

The girls at the national religious “Orot” school had been due to start the new school year at the site, but were relocated due to the protest. Last week, Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul sent a letter to the parents’ association, warning that he had received serious threats from ultra-Orthodox residents of the city, who vowed to cause physical harm to both to the mayor and the students should the school open as planned.

Abutbul told the parents that in light of the threats, he could not guarantee the safety of the girls, and had decided not to open the school for the start of the academic year.

“Do you know what this means?” Ze’ev Moskowitz, a member of the parents’ association asked angrily. “A mayor of an Israeli city says ‘I have no control over what is happening here.’ A couple of days ago, the ultra-Orthodox smashed several windows in the school, which led the parents to start a night watch there. Last night, at around 2:30 A.M., 15 ultra-Orthodox broke into the building; the parents at the site called the police, who, according to the parents, said that they could not stop them entering the building. This morning, hundreds of parents arrived to confront the intruders, and they are there right now.”

A police unit turned up at the school Monday to separate the two groups. “Right now there is anarchy,” Esti Moskowitz, the head of the parents’ association, said Monday. “What the mayor is actually saying is ‘the strong are in charge, I am not ready to take the decision, even though the legal decision is to say that the building is yours.’ This building was constructed with the symbol of the ‘Orot’ organization displayed at its pinnacle. The threats that the mayor has received come from a small group inside Beit Shemesh and all the [municipal] agencies are afraid of them – a group of fanatics which is at the moment running this city. They want everyone in the city to be ultra-Orthodox. Great. Tomorrow they will say I need to wear a wig and my son has to wear long trousers. Who will stop them then?”

The parents say that they have the full backing of the Education Ministry. The police said Monday that they have separated the two scuffling groups, and are now waiting before taking further action, in accordance with a decision by the municipality and Education Ministry.