High Court upholds decision to compel Jerusalem public pool to open on Shabbat

Har Homa Community Administration, which battled against municipal requirement it open on weekends, says ruling is blow to democratic rights of residents, most of whom are Orthodox

The pool at Har Homa

The High Court has rejected an appeal by the Har Homa Community Administration against a ruling by a lower court that ordered a local public swimming pool in the largely Orthodox Jewish East Jerusalem community to remain open on Saturdays.

For over a year and a half a battle has raged in court between secular residents, backed by a Jerusalem deputy mayor, and the community administration over operating the pool on Saturdays, or Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

Explaining their decision Monday, acting court president Uzi Fogelman and justices Dafna Barak-Erez and Ofer Grosskopf said, “Shabbat pool activity is a given reality in residential neighborhoods in Jerusalem, including those that have a religious residents.”

The Jerusalem Municipality, they noted, “should have made an appropriate administrative decision in a way that reflects a broad view concerning the entire city. The question is whether the law allows this decision to be left to the community administration.”

Har Homa Community Administration leader Shlomo Golbury lamented the High Court ruling as a blow to the democratic rights of residents and the Jewish character of Jerusalem.

Golbury said in a statement: “The verdict given by the court is an extremely unfortunate incident of harm to the Jewishness of Jerusalem, but first and foremost it harms the democracy and will of the residents of the neighborhood.”

“The judges chose to cancel the choice and will of the residents of the neighborhood and once again trample Judaism on the streets of Jerusalem,” he said.

The East Jerusalem Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, February 15, 2017. (Dan Balilty/AP)

Community Administrations, unique to Jerusalem, are composed of elected local residents and public servants whose role is to act as a liaison with the city government and aid in running neighborhood life, in particular for leisure, urban planning, and culture. There are 31 community administrations in the capital.

The Haaretz daily reported Tuesday that the swimming pool was completed a year and a half ago but has remained closed due to the battle over its weekend operations. The NIS 40 million ($10.8 million) cost of construction came from public funds, the report noted.

At the time of completion the Jerusalem municipality informed the community administration that, in keeping with other Jerusalem public pools, it should be open on Shabbat.

However, the administration refused to comply. According to Central Bureau of Statistics data cited by Haaretz, Har Homa is evenly composed of ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, and secular residents.

Residents, along with secularist Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosi Havilio, went to court to force the administration’s hand and in January last year, the Jerusalem District Court ruled the pool must be open on Shabbat for a two-year assessment period after which the matter will be reviewed. However, the use of the pool on Shabbat was limited to those who had membership.

The court administration then appealed the ruling to the country’s highest court, which turned away the plea.

Neighborhood court administrations have in the past come into conflict with the municipality or even within their own ranks over the touchy subject of the religious-secular status quo in the capital.

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