Cries of Racism as Jews Block New East Jerusalem Arab School

Jewish residents of Neveh Yaakov block Palestinians' attempt at building school for fear of harassment of Jewish girls by Arab students.

Residents of the East Jerusalem community of Beit Hanina have been trying for the past seven years to receive permission to build a high school on village land, next to the increasingly ultra-Orthodox Neveh Yaakov neighborhood. But time after time their efforts have been thwarted by their Jewish neighbors.

About a month ago, the city engineer promised the Beit Hanina residents that he would fight to include the high school in the budget for the coming year. But some two and half weeks ago, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, also the chairman of the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee, told the objectors that the matter had been removed from the council's agenda.

Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina

The opponents from Neveh Yaakov are not trying to hide their opinions on the matter, charging that a Beit Hanina high school at the junction next to the Jewish neighborhood would lead to harassment of Jewish girls by Arab students. Their biggest concern, however, is that Arab students would throw stones and Molotov cocktails at Jewish residents.

"We have experience of what went on at this junction in the past," said Gabi Ganish, chairman of the Neveh Yaakov community administration. "Molotov cocktails were thrown at the junction, and roads were blocked, and we had masked men and a whole lot more in the neighborhood. So I don't need this high school that would screw both neighborhoods."

Over the years, the Beit Hanina residents agreed to a compromise under which the school would be an all-girls facility. Ganish, however, wasn't swayed by the idea, commenting: "And girls can't throw stones too?"

In an effort to further soften the compromise, the Beit Hanina residents agreed to put up only a special-needs facility. This, too, was not enough to dispel the objections of the Neveh Yaakov residents.

Meanwhile, not everyone at the Jerusalem municipality is siding with Kahlon's decision. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef Alalu, responsible for the education portfolio for the east of the city, harshly criticized Kahlon's decision to remove the issue from the council's agenda.

"This is downright racism," he said. "There's no other word for it. This school could have been standing a long time ago. It bothers me as a Jew; if this were to happen elsewhere, I'd say it was anti-Semitism. They have no bloody reason whatsoever."

Kahlon responded: "The municipality did not give its approval because they were told it's impossible to build a special-education school there."