Jerusalem Court Redivides Beit Shemesh School Into Haredi, Secular Wings

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The barrier dividing the Beit Shemesh school courtyard, Sept. 1, 2014. Credit: Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court rejected on Thursday the petition submitted by the state against the conversion of the wing of a secular school in Beit Shemesh to a Haredi school.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul praised the decision as "good news for the 100 girls that the Education Ministry threw out into the street."

The Education Ministry petitioned for the court to order a restraining order against partitioning the school, but Judge Gad Ehrenberg accepted the municipality's position that the court has no authority to hear the lawsuit. The judge ruled there is no disputing that the city owns the facility, even if it were built with ministry funding.

Ehrenberg also ruled that if the state has reservations about how the municipality is running the school, it should go through administrative procedures directly with the city or file a petition against it with the High Court of Justice.

The Beit Shemesh municipality erected a separation barrier in the middle of the school courtyard on the eve of the school year, and transferred one wing to the Haredi school, known as Mishkenot Da’at.

On Monday, parents and teachers at the secular school held a partial strike to protest the decision and held a demonstration at the site against what they termed the Haredi “takeover” of Beit Shemesh.

"It is not a fight over space," said Eli Cohen, leader of the opposition in the city council. "It's a fight over the Zionist character of the country. The barrier is the beginning of the end of Zionism in Beit Shemesh."

Parents and teachers in the secular school said they only were informed about the intention to divide the school only near the end of August, and that the division was done by surprise the night before the school year opened. City officials countered the division was made because of a severe shortage of classrooms in the Haredi educational system. They said most of the secular school was empty, and that most of its students arrive from older neighborhoods in the city.

The Jerusalem magistrate's court had issued a restraining order Tuesday against the Haredi school, while Michal Cohen, director general of the Education Ministry, issued an order closing Mishkenot Da’at.

The educational institution is being run without a permit and contrary to the law of school supervision," Cohen wrote in her decision.

The Israeli Education Ministry announced Thursday that it would appeal the court's decision.

Ministry officials said they considered the local authority to be acting in an illegitimate and bullying manner, which needed to be stopped immediately. They also remarked that in light of Judge Ehrenberg's decision that he had no authority to hear the case the ministry would appeal Thursday night to the proper court.

Ministry officials reiterated they still considered the closure order to stand.

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