Wall Separating Haredi, Secular Students Torn Down at Beit Shemesh School

Mayor decides to take backtrack despite judge ruling that the city may keep the barrier up.

Beit Shemesh Mayor Moshe Abutbul ordered Thursday that the separation barrier that had been set up in the middle of a secular school courtyard in the city on the night before the school year began this week be taken down.

Abutbul took this move despite the fact that the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court had accepted the city's position, ruling that the municipality owned the school and could run it as it saw fit.

The barrier had been built by the city at the request of the ultra-Orthodox school Mishkenot Da'at in order to repurpose half of the secular school's classrooms into Haredi classrooms.

Abutbul said the barrier had been built at the Haredi school's request "but it was taken out of proportion and used by interested parties as a grinding axe…As a reconciliation gesture I instructed to take down the fence. I hope that this will bring down the wall that has been built here between the sides."

On Tuesday, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court issued a restraining order at the Education Ministry's request, barring the ultra-Orthodox school from partitioning the school. At the same time ministry director general Michal Cohen issued an order closing Mishkenot Da’at.

However, on Thursday the court rejected the state's request to take down the fence and remove the ultra-Orthodox students from the school grounds.

Judge Gad Ehrenberg said he had no authority to hear the case and accepted the municipality's argument that the city owns the facility, even if it had been 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.

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."