|• Hebrew||בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ|
|• ISO 259||Beit Šemš|
|• Also spelled||Bet Shemesh (official)|
|• Arabic||بيت شيمش|
Modern Beit Shemesh
|• Mayor||Moshe Abutbul|
|• Total||34,259 dunams (34.259 km2 or 13.227 sq mi)|
|Name meaning||House of the sun|
Beit Shemesh (Hebrew: בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ,; Greek: Βαιθσαμύς; Latin: Bethsames) is a city located approximately 30 kilometres (19 mi) west of Jerusalem in Israel's Jerusalem District, with a population of 80,600 in 2010. The history of Beit Shemesh goes back to pre-biblical times. The modern city of Beit Shemesh was founded in 1950.
- 1 History
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Urban development
- 4 Local government
- 5 Education
- 6 Economy
- 7 Transportation
- 8 Sports
- 9 Arab-Israeli conflict
- 10 Gender issues and inter-communal tensions
- 11 Archaeology
- 12 Twinning and sister cities
- 13 References
- 14 External links
The ancient city of Beit Shemesh ("house of the sun" or "temple of the sun" in Hebrew) was originally named after the Canaanite sun-goddess Shemesh, who was worshipped there in antiquity. The ruins of the ancient biblical city can still be seen in the tell of Beit Shemesh, located near the modern city.
Beit Shemesh is first mentioned in the Book of Joshua 15 as a city in the territory of the tribe of Judah on the border between their territory and that of the tribe of Dan. Later in Joshua 21 Beit Shemesh is mentioned as having been set aside as a city for the priests of the tribe of Levi, the Kohanim. The city is mentioned notably in chapter 6 of the book of 1 Samuel as being the first city encountered by the Ark of the Covenant on its way back from Philistia after having been captured by the Philistines in battle. In the book of 2 Kings, Beit Shemesh is again mentioned as being the site of the battle between Amaziah king of Judea and Jehoash king of Israel.
During the destruction of Judea by the Babylonians, the waterworks of Beit Shemesh were sealed and covered, and were not uncovered until 2004. Thus during the first Jewish return, known as the Second Temple period, there was no revival of the city, as opposed to many other places in the vicinity such as Beit Guvrin, Maresha, and others. Consequently, the small towns of Dayr Raban and Dayr Rafat had used secondary rocks for building, from this very ancient source. Also found nearby is a prehistoric Megalith circle, probably the structure responsible for the name Beit Shemesh.
A monastery and other remains from the Byzantine period have been found. In the late 19th century, the site was used as a temporary harvest time residence by local Arabs. A small mosque of Abu Mizar was there.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Egyptian army invaded the area and set up a fortified post ("Mishlat") on the hill that would later become Beit Shemesh. The post changed hands several times during fighting. The Harel Brigade occupied part of the post for several months giving rise to the name "the joint post" or the "Mishlat HaMeshutaf" with 60 meters dividing them and the enemy forces. The Mishlat was finally taken by the Harel force in the "HaHar" offensive during the night of 19–20 October 1948.
Beit Shemesh is the point from which Convoy of 35 set out to bring provisions to besieged Gush Etzion. On 15 January 1948 a group of 38 Palmach volunteers left Hartuv near Beit Shemesh. After one member of the group sprained his ankle, the group, now numbering 35, continued on its way. An Arab shepherd they met informed on them, resulting in an attack by Arab forces in which all 35 were killed.
State of Israel
On 6 December 1950, the Hartuv displaced persons camp "Ma'abarat Har-Tuv" was established on the site of the current-day Moshav Naham. The first inhabitants were Jewish Bulgarian immigrants. They were joined by more Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria, Iran, Iraq, Romania, Morocco and Kurdistan. In 1952 the first permanent houses were built in Beit Shemesh. Prior to 1948 the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood area was the site of the Arab village Bayt Nattif. This village was built on remnants of an ancient Judean town, with various remnants of Jewish settlement from the time, such as a mosaic floor, wineries and other remains, especially from the period of the Hasmonean kings and earlier. This area is currently under dispute about preservation, having been the subject of a grassroots campaign.
In its early years, Beit Shemesh came to typify the "Development Town" with a largely North African immigrant population. In 1977, following a writeup in Haaretz newspaper, Beit Shemesh was perceived as the main outpost for Menachem Begin's Likud party. He promised to rehabilitate neighborhoods and when Likud came to power that year, investment in the city increased.
In 1952, new immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Romania, Morocco and Iraqi Kurdistan settled in Beit Shemesh. In the 1990s, the city saw a large influx of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and English-speaking countries. In recent years, there has been an important increase in the number of English-speaking Israelis who have moved to Beit Shemesh. Considerable numbers have come from North America, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. This population tends to be Orthodox, educated and from middle income groups.
According to a city councillor, there were no Haredim in Beit Shemesh before the 1990s. Since then, Beit Shemesh has become increasingly religious, with a large Haredi sector. Many synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the city. Religious communities represented in Beit Shemesh include Ger, Belz, Shomer Emunim, Satmar and Neturei Karta. In 2011 Haredim made up 40% of the population, of which an estimated 50 or 60 families with great influence are militant. According to statistics published by the municipality, 63% of the city's schoolchildren in 2010 were Haredim. 75% of the children entering the first grade in the 2012/2013 academic year will be registered in official Haredi institutions.
The population of Beit Shemesh is expected to reach 150,000 in 2020.
Two new neighborhoods, Nahala UMenucha and Ramat Beit Shemesh, were built in the 1990s, doubling the size of the city. The large English-speaking community is concentrated in the Dolev area of Ramat Beit Shemesh, Sheinfeld, Nofei Aviv, Migdal HaMayim and Givat Sharett.
Ramat Beit Shemesh ("Beit Shemesh Heights") lies directly adjacent to the main part of Beit Shemesh. It is located on a hill overlooking the old town. It has a large, diverse Orthodox population. The neighborhood consists of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. In Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, families belonging to Eda Haredit constitute the majority. In 2002, following tensions between the Haredi and non-religious population, plans were drawn up to build another secular neighborhood, HaShachar. In 2007, Ramat Shilo, considered a subdistrict of Ramat Beit Shemesh, with both Dati Leumi and Haredi residents was built. In 2009, it was announced that a new neighborhood, Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimel, would be built as an entirely Haredi neighborhood on a large block of state-owned land bordering southern Beit Shemesh.
The mayor of Beit Shemesh, Moshe Abutbul, is a member of Shas. The deputy-mayor, Shmuel Greenberg, is a member of United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Haaretz quotes Abutbul as saying: "Beit Shemesh is not a Haredi city and will not be one." In the 2009 elections, Shas and UTJ won nine seats in the 21-seat municipal council, one seat went to a new Haredi party called Tov.
Formerly a Likud stronghold, in the 2006 Knesset elections United Torah Judaism became the city's strongest party, with 22.2 percent of the votes and Shas getting 19.9 percent. In 2009 Likud regained its primacy, obtaining 22.2 percent of the votes, and Shas also gained, garnering 20.9 percent, with United Torah Judaism a close third at 20.6 percent. Eda Haredit boycott the elections.
2013 Municipal Elections
During the municipal elections held on On October 22nd 2013, acting on an several anonymous tips, police raided several private residences and recovered 200 ID cards and disguising materials such as hats, glasses and wigs which law enforcement suspected were used or going to be used for fraudulent voting. Additionally, eight people were arrested on suspicion for engaging and coordinating fraudulent voting activities.
On December 10th, 2013 a three judge panel of the Jerusalem District Court nullified the results of the October municipal elections due to massive voter fraud and ordered a new election.
Following an unprecedented 76% voter turnout rate, incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul beat contender Eli Cohen with a 51% majority vote during the reelection which took place on March 11th, 2014. 
In 2001, there were 56 schools and 14,148 students in the city: 41 elementary schools with 10,716 elementary school students, and 20 high schools with 3,432 high school students. 40.3% of 12th grade students were entitled to a matriculation certificate.
Beit Shemesh has two industrial zones containing mainly small industry, particularly in the Northern industrial zone which is typified by carpentry and metalwork workshops, garages and wholesale and retail outlets. The Western industrial zone contains several larger companies including Beit Shemesh Engines Ltd. (BSEL) which manufactures and repairs jet engines and jet engine components, Barzellan and others. Nearby in the Noham industrial zone are situated various other factories and offices. Since the hi-tech boom of 1996–2001 Beit Shemesh has been host to several hi-tech startups.
Beit Shemesh Railway Station provides hourly service on the Israel Railways Kfar Saba–Jerusalem line. The station is located in the north industrial zone of Beit Shemesh. It was reopened on 13 September 2003, having existed for over a century at the same location. The station has three platforms.
Bus transportation within Beit Shemesh and most inter-city routes is operated by Superbus, which began service on 5 January 2009. The Egged Bus Cooperative, which previously operated all bus service in and to Beit Shemesh, still operates a limited number of bus lines from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.
Beit Shemesh is home to numerous sports clubs all under the main sport associations (Beitar, Hapoel, and Maccabi). The city has soccer teams including juniors, seniors and over-35s teams and boasted a franchise in the Israel Baseball League. The Beit Shemesh Blue Sox represented Beit Shemesh in the league's only season, though they played their games at Gezer Field in Kibbutz Gezer due to a lack of proper facilities in Beit Shemesh. There is also a very active Little League in Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh, with over 300 members. In the field of judo, Elitzur Beit Shemesh has won many prizes. Israel Kung Fu and world Nunchaku champion (2001) Eli Ivgi was born in and lives in Beit Shemesh.
On 13 March 1997, seven 13 and 14-year-old girls from Beit Shemesh's AMIT Feurst School were killed at the "Island of Peace" site in Naharayim by a Jordanian soldier while they were visiting the joint Israeli and Jordanian tourist resort under Jordanian rule on a class trip. King Hussein of Jordan went to Beit Shemesh a few days after the massacre to extend his condolences and ask forgiveness in the name of his country, a step which was seen as both courageous and touching.
Gender issues and inter-communal tensions
In 2004 the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews claimed that Ethiopian Jews working for the municipality were being paid below-minimum wages. In 2011, the Association criticized the referral of Ethiopian Jews to three private pre-schools run by the mayor's wife.
According to the Jerusalem Post, women who belong to a Haredi burka cult in Beit Shemesh were ostracized by the Haredi community. The leader of the movement, dubbed the "Taliban mother" by the Israeli press, was convicted by the Jerusalem District Court in 2009 on three counts of abuse of a minor and 25 counts of assault in aggravated circumstances, and sentenced to four years in prison. Her husband was also convicted of 10 counts of assault and three counts of abuse of a minor or helpless person, and was sentenced to six months in jail.
In 2011, conflicts erupted in Beit Shemesh between extremist ultra-Orthodox men, possibly members of a group known as the Sikrikim, and other residents of the town due to gender separation at local health clinics, and so called ‘mehadrin buses’ where men sit in the front and women in the back.
When the municipality removed a sign asking women to stay away from a synagogue, hundreds of Haredi men staged riots in which they attacked police officers and reporters. Several placards urging segregation between men and women were put back after being removed by the police.
After the opening of Orot Banot national-religious girls’ school in September 2011, groups of Haredi extremists gathered in front of the school, calling the girls names and spitting at them when they headed to and from school. Stones hurled at a boys' school belonging to the same educational network injured a boy in the leg. Two men were arrested on suspicion of throwing eggs and tomatoes at students. In a demonstration outside the school a female journalist was assaulted by young Haredi men who cursed and spat at her, and a clash with parents of girls studying at the school was broken up by the police force.
In December 2011, a public outcry was raised when a television news channel interviewed 8-year old Na'ama Margolese, who was cursed and spat at on her way to school by Haredi extremists. The Jewish Daily Forward reported that the issue is really a property dispute over ownership of the school building. Some Haredi women distributed flowers to the girls of Orot Banot school, telling them "sister to sister" that they were beautiful. On 27 December 2011, a protest against extremism near the Orot Banot school drew 10,000 people. After the incidents in Beit Shemesh were reported in foreign press, the US State Department updated its Jerusalem travel advisory advising visitors to "dress appropriately" when visiting ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, or to avoid them entirely.
Na'ama's mother Hadassah Margolese who has repeatedly spoken out on behalf of national religious Beit Shemesh residents against Haredi tendencies, including about an occurrence in which little girls' faces were blurred out on Purim advertisements distributed in her neighborhood, and a humiliating experience at the ritual bath reportedly left Beit Shemesh with her family in late July 2013 after being attacked by members of her own national religious community who accused her of lying and of exposing the community to public shame.
In 1971, excavations at Givat Sharett conducted by Israeli archaeologist Claire Epstein revealed a residential settlement of the Middle Bronze Age, including a temple.
The most ancient iron workshop in the world was discovered in Beit Shemesh in 2003. The only remnants of a fortified city with an advanced water system, from the time of the early Kingdom of Judah was found here. The bones of animals found in the 12th–11th centuries BCE layer indicate a diet typical of the Israelites who inhabited the hill country in this period. These together with the pottery finds indicate the cultural influences on the inhabitants of this border town. However, it is not possible to determine their specific ethnic identity, which could be Canaanite, Philistine or Israelite.
In August 2012 archaeologists from Tel Aviv University announced the discovery of a circular stone seal, approximately 15 millimetres in diameter. The seal was found on the floor of a house at Beit Shemesh and is dated to the 12th century BCE. According to Haaretz, "excavation directors Prof. Shlomo Bunimovitz and Dr. Zvi Lederman of Tel Aviv University say they do not suggest that the human figure on the seal is the biblical Samson. Rather, the geographical proximity to the area where Samson lived, and the time period of the seal, show that a story was being told at the time of a hero who fought a lion, and that the story eventually found its way into the biblical text and onto the seal."
Animal bones found nearby may also be a clue to boundary disputes between different cultures. Pig bones have been found a few kilometres from Beit Shemesh, but only a few have been found actually at Beit Shemesh and at some point during the 11th century it appears that the local population stopped eating pig. Haaretz reports that "According to Bunimovitz, when the pork-eating Philistines arrived in the country from the Aegean, the local people stopped eating pork to differentiate themselves from the newcomers."
Twinning and sister cities
Beit Shemesh is a Sister City of:
- Cocoa, Florida, United States
- Lancaster, Pennsylvania, United States
- Nordhausen, Germany
- Lhasa, China
- Ramapo, New York, United States
- Split, Croatia
After the Washington Post reported in October 2011 that Montgomery County, Maryland was considering a partnership with Beit Shemesh, a local coalition, Human Rights Matter!, objected. The campaign was supported by Mossawa, a human rights organization in Israel as well as Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire.
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