Secular settlers win legal battle for co-ed open swim time

Secular settlers win legal battle for co-ed open swim time

After High Court judge slams Kiryat Arba’s neglect of minority that makes up 30% of southern West Bank town, local council agrees to allow mix-gendered swim

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative photo of a swimming pool (AP/Hassan Ammar)
Illustrative photo of a swimming pool (AP/Hassan Ammar)

After an intense legal battle that made its way all the way to the High Court of Justice, the southern West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba agreed last week to permit co-ed family swim time at the town pool.

The town had for months refused requests to allow any mixed-gendered swimming, saying it was obliged to respect the sensitivities of religious residents, many of whom are ultra-Orthodox.

Secular parents, on the other hand, lamented the inability to bring all of their children to the pool at once because of the strict modesty rules, which divided the site’s hours between those open to men and those open to women.

Posting on a Facebook group for Kiryat Arba residents, one single mother wrote that she has been forced to hire a babysitter to look after her 6-year-old son when she takes her two older daughters to the pool.

For its part, the local council also argued that its hesitation to change the pool policy was also a financial one, claiming that religious residents would cancel their membership to the recreational center, leading to a loss in income for the town.

The cultural center in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba at its opening on September 19, 2011. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

After what the secular residents described as years of inaction on the part of their local representatives, a group of them submitted a High Court petition, demanding several hours of co-ed swim time be carved out of the pool’s schedule each week.

In February, the top legal body held its first hearing on the matter in which the judges panned the local council for neglecting roughly 30% of its population.

The censure is likely what drove Kiryat Arba to agree to the secular residents’ demand, allowing the High Court to waive the petition in an announcement that was publicized Sunday.

“The respondent (the Kiryat Arba Local Council) announced that it would act as requested in the petition in order to allow the existence of “family time” (i.e. co-ed swim) in the public pool,” the High Court ruling stated.

The secular residents behind the appeal released a statement Monday welcoming the decision, which they said “put an end to the discrimination of an entire community.”

“We hope that the council will act to implement the verdict as soon as possible so that we can enjoy a family time in the public pool this summer,” the residents said.

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