The legal advisor to the City of Beit Shemesh dispatched
municipal inspectors to remove signs hung on the balconies of
apartments owned by chareidi residents. The signs called on
pedestrians arriving at the commercial center in Ramat Beit
Shemesh Alef to honor nearby residents' sensitivities by
dressing modestly. However an examination of city ordinances
reveals that signs can only be removed after the mayor issues
Following the large demonstration at the commercial center
four weeks ago, many merchants have shown heightened
awareness of the issue. Rabbonim sent representatives to meet
with store owners to arrange the needed improvements in
matters of tznius and chinuch and to prevent
fringe youth from transforming the commercial center into a
As part of their efforts, signs were hung on the homes of
chareidi families living nearby calling on shoppers to honor
residents' sensibilities by coming clad in modest attire. Yet
the city's legal advisor, Attorney Mickey Gastwirth, a
national-religious Jew living near the commercial center,
found the signs perturbing and dispatched inspectors.
Arriving at the homes, the inspectors ordered the residents
to remove the signs within two hours or face heavy fines.
Most of the alarmed residents complied. The city ordinance,
however, states that only the mayor has the authority to
order apartment owners to take down signs and only three days
after receiving the warning can action be taken and a fine of
NIS 200 issued.
Residents say Gastwirth's move was politically motivated.
When asked whether they had received orders to remove signs
denouncing the disengagement plan the inspectors said the
legal advisor had ordered them only to take down signs in the
chareidi neighborhood. Residents believe the legal advisor
ordered the signs removed as part of a campaign by fringe
elements in the national-religious camp to put a halt to the
growth of the city's chareidi sector.
Some neighborhood residents say the legal advisor's
surprising move was motivated by fears of the growing
chareidi population. "The hundreds of signs on the balconies
of homes of national-religious residents seeking to rent or
sell their apartments shows this sector is abandoning the
city," said one observer.
City of Beit Shemesh Spokesman Yehuda Gur-Aryeh said, "There
is no connection between the legal advisor's worldview or his
political affiliation and the activation of his authority in
full accordance with the municipal law. He claims the
municipality has always been careful to preserve the city's
appearance in general and the commercial centers in
particular. Hanging signs without oversight, and especially
in the commercial centers, constitutes aesthetic damage,
regardless of the contents and message of the signs.
According to the ordinance, any sign must receive a permit
from the city and a payment fee and those who do not act in
accordance with the ordinance can be fined by law."
Following a warning by the mayor to remove the signs after
the designated period has elapsed, city inspectors are
authorized to physically remove the signs, he added. "In the
incident in question, city inspectors were content at this
stage to issue an oral warning to residents who placed signs
without permits and without paying the sign fee that they can
expect fines if they do not remove the signs placed in
violation of the law—regardless of the contents and
messages in the signs."
When asked whether the municipality would order the removal
of anti-disengagement signs hanging on the balconies of right-
wing Beit Shemesh residents, the spokesman declined to
Attorney Mordechai Green, director of Betzedek — The
American Israeli Center for the Promotion of Justice in
Israel, sent a letter to Gastwirth demanding he rescind his
instructions to the city inspectors to remove the signs. In
the letter Attorney Green notes his office received numerous
complaints from chareidi residents in Beit Shemesh over the
warnings by city inspectors to take down the signs within two
hours or face fines. The inspectors also demanded the removal
of "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs in the same area.
"According to these residents . . . a similar warning was not
issued to many residents who [displayed] orange-colored
banners and stickers related to opposition to the
disengagement," the letter states.
Attorney Green cited a similar episode in Be'er Sheva a
decade ago in which the court sided with residents who were
forced to take down signs from their homes, calling the
city's action "tyrannical and unjustified."