West Bank Settlement Must Allow Mixed-gender Swimming Pool, Israel's Attorney General Says

Petitioners turn again to High Court when Kiryat Arba’s pool reopens with only separate hours for men and women

Hagar Shezaf
Netael Bandel
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A protester at the pool in Kiryat Arba in 2017.
A protester at the pool in Kiryat Arba in 2017.
Hagar Shezaf
Netael Bandel

The West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba has violated a High Court of Justice ruling by refusing to allow mixed-gender swimming at its municipal pool, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote on Sunday.

Zilber tasked the local authority with allocating some hours for mixed-gender swimming immediately.

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Residents of the settlement, on the outskirts of Hebron, contacted the Attorney General’s Office last week because the pool had opened with no mixed-gender hours despite the court’s ruling, which the municipality had agreed to.

In 2017, four secular residents of Kiryat Arba asked the court to rule that the pool must have “family hours” in which men and women could go swimming together, instead of only having separate hours according to gender. They said they represented the 30 percent or so of the settlement’s residents who are secular.

In 2018, while the petition was still pending, Kiryat Arba told the court it would allow mixed-gender swimming. The court gave this promise the force of a ruling.

The petitioners complained that the municipality’s offer never met their needs, since it proposed mixed-gender swimming only three days a week, and only at night or on Friday afternoons shortly before Shabbat began.

Moreover, they said, the settlement has consistently tried to avoid carrying out the ruling, either through having the pool run by an outside contractor or by opening it only for “health-related” gender-segregated swimming. For most of the past two years, the pool has been closed entirely, until it reopened last week with only single-sex hours.

In the settlement newsletter, the municipality wrote: “Unfortunately, the pool’s operation was stopped several years ago after a petition to the High Court demanding hours for mixed swimming by men and women, which led to protests, the cancellation of subscriptions, the pool’s closure due to economic unviability and, above all, to great pain for the decisive majority of residents of Kiryat Arba-Hebron.”

The pool, it continued, would reopen “in the same format as it has for 40 years. The pool isn’t a political issue, but a vital necessity for all residents ... We urge the public to see the greater good and exercise tolerance to enable its use and enjoyment by and the health of every part of the community.”

In her letter to Kiryat Arba’s legal adviser on Sunday, Zilber wrote that “opening the pool in this format violates the municipality’s commitment to the High Court in a way that deprives the residents who petitioned it access to a public service while discriminating against them illegally.” Therefore, the municipality must “immediately allocate” hours for mixed swimming.

Any public agency must keep its promises to the courts, she added,  especially when such a promise has been given the force of a ruling.

The petitioners’ attorney, Aviad Hacohen, said the petition and Zilber’s letter “speak for themselves.”

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