Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Av 5765 - August 31, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Government Wants to "Dismantle" Shuls of Gush Katif

By Betzalel Kahn, Eliezer Rauchberger, and M Plaut

The High Court issued a restraining order to prevent the demolition of botei knesses in the evacuated Gush Katif communities pending the government's reaction to an additional petition filed yesterday to preserve the shuls of Jewish Gaza as they are. However on Sunday the government decided to demolish the majority of botei knesses after clearing out all of their contents, despite a plea by both Chief Rabbis to leave them intact.

One week ago the High Court permitted the demolition of botei knesses in Gush Katif as part of the Disengagement Plan. The decision upset rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel and abroad and the Chief Rabbinate was flooded with urgent letters from the rabbonim of numerous cities and countries throughout the Jewish world arguing that the High Court decision had serious repercussions for thousands of botei knesses around the world. If the Israeli government can easily demolish dozens of shuls, the non- Jewish governments of the world cannot be expected to preserve ancient houses of worship that are long standing empty of all worshipers.

The Chief Rabbinical Council convened last Thursday and decided to demand that the government "halt the plan to demolish botei knesses and botei medrash in Gush Katif and Northern Shomron and [instead] preserve them." This decision led the petitioners in the previous petition to the High Court to request a fresh High Court order to delay the demolition of the botei knesses, and indeed on Monday Judge Ayala Procaccia issued a temporary restraining order pending responses from the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister.

At the same time the government at its weekly meeting last Sunday chose to disregard the decision by the Rabbinical Council and the High Court order by approving the demolition of botei knesses "in accordance with the opinion of the Chief Rabbis and the Defense Minister." The ministers discussed a proposal by Defense Minister Mofaz to dismantle and transport all of the Jewish symbols in the 20 botei knesses, including the foundations, while two temporary structures would be transported to Israeli territory in their entirety. The cabinet meeting was attended by both Chief Rabbis of Israel as well as by the Chief Rabbis of Rechovot, Be'er Sheva and Haifa.

The rabbonim participating in the Cabinet meeting related the responses they received from rabbonim abroad, explaining that the dismantlement of botei knesses in Israel by Jews will make efforts to preserve various botei knesses, many of which occupy prime real estate and interfere with development plans in Europe and the US, much more difficult.

Defense officials claimed the matter must be decided quickly since soldiers standing guard over these botei knesses are exposed to Palestinian gunfire.

A dispute between government ministers broke out during the discussion. Minister Olmert claimed that the demand by the rabbonim not to demolish botei knesses "stems from political motivations." Minister Yisrael Katz retorted, "The rabbis' request should be honored, for their remarks are based on fears for the Jewish world—even if the government is forced to change its decision."

Prime Minister Sharon claimed this is not an act of destroying botei knesses but of dismantling the structures. "I hear the words like `to destroy' are being used," he said. "I would like to use the term `dismantle.' Anything that can be moved from there—doors, stained-glass windows, commemorative windows, Magen David symbols—will be moved. This is not demolition but a dismantling of all of the sacred symbols and Jewish emblems. We must consider what the neighbors will do inside and outside of the building if we leave it to them."

At the end of the discussion the government accepted the proposal of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz' to send a team commissioned by the Chief Rabbis and the Chief Rabbinical Council together with Defense Ministry engineers into Gush Katif to assess every beis knesses to determine what can be transported to Israeli territory, striving to minimize the damage to the botei knesses. The results of the assessments will be presented to the Chief Rabbis and the Defense Minister this week.

A Total of 3,864 Arrested

From the beginning of the civil calendar year to the present, 3,864 people were arrested in the anti-Disengagement campaign, Assistant State's Prosecutor Shay Nitzan told the Knesset Constitutional Committee on Monday. This includes those arrested for blocking streets all over the country, as well as those arrested during the Disengagement itself.

He noted that 1,522 of them were arrested in the last two weeks while the Disengagement was actually being implemented. Only twenty-four are still in custody.

Nitzan also said that 364 indictments against Disengagement opponents have been filed to date, 144 during the past two weeks.

Attorney General Mani Mazuz, who was present at the meeting, refused to promise that indictments would not be filed against all others who were arrested, saying that clemency would certainly not be shown toward those who threw rocks, nearly causing head injuries to security forces.

Mazuz said the legal system made a distinction between protest activity and acts of violence. "Our approach was to allow broad freedom of protest despite the threat this posed," Mazuz explained, saying that the law enforcement system reacted and will react forcefully against any acts of violence.

Mazuz added that only in isolated incidents was the law enforcement system forced to take legal measures. "We were obligated to adopt working principals based on a cold and sober view of matters vis-a-vis the general public and vis-a- vis the Disengagement opponents. We made a distinction between protest activity and violent activity and it throughout the period, even when there were attacks from the right and the left, we upheld this policy consistently, both on the issue of violence and the issue of freedom of expression."

Constitutional Committee Chairman MK Michael Eitan (Likud) said that his committee will follow up on the indictments filed against the demonstrators, carefully evaluate each incident and present criticism if there is a policy of expanding the indictments. Eitan says that indictments should be limited to cases of violence, which has always been the policy at demonstrations, including demonstrations by workers, students, etc.

Transferring the Graves

The transfer of 48 graves from Gush Katif to Israeli territory began on Monday, just days after the evacuation of Gush Katif was completed.

The first grave to be disinterred was that of Nechemia Winter, who drowned ten years ago while immersing himself in the sea in preparation for Yom Kippur. His grave was moved from the cemetery in Neve Dekalim to the new cemetery set up near the prefab housing site in Nitzan. Family members, rabbonim, public figures and hundreds of former Gush Katif residents participated in the reburial.

The levayos for bodies moved from the Neve Dekalim Cemetery are scheduled to continue this week. Some of the graves will be taken to the cemetery at Nitzan and others to the Mount of Olives and other cemeteries around the country based on the families' requests.


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