Charedim battle over girls' school

By Ruth Eglash, September 22, 2011

Tensions between the strictly-Orthodox and religious-Zionist communities in Beit Shemesh, just outside Jerusalem, heated up this week as an ongoing dispute over the location of a non-Charedi girls' school brought both sides out onto the streets.

On Tuesday morning, Charedi residents handed out flyers calling for a mass demonstration against the school and what they see as less modest elements threatening their community.

The demonstration took place just yards from the Orot Banot girl's school, which opened recently to address classroom shortages faced by the local religious-Zionist community.

Orot Banot sits on the border between the communities and both sides argue that the land was promised to them.

According to members of the religious-Zionist community, some Charedim shout abuse at the girls, calling them shiksas and whores as they make their way home. On Sunday, police arrested two Charedim on suspicion of throwing eggs and tomatos at the pupils.

"Tensions have been building over the past few years," said community activist Dov Lipman, who has been trying to rally members of the secular, religious Zionist and modern orthodox communities to speak out against what he feels is ongoing intimidation.

Mr Lipman pointed out that while Charedim account for only 40 per cent of Beit Shemesh residents, they are overly represented on the local municipality, including by Charedi mayor Moshe Abutbul.

"The mayor was working to sort out this problem," said municipality spokesman Matitiyahu Rosensweig. "However, national government got involved and the situation has spun out of control. He is still doing his best to find a peaceful solution."

Last updated: 6:58pm, January 4 2012