Court Postpones Demolition of Illegal Synagogue for Fear of Revenge Attacks

Structure was built without permits on private Palestinian land; about 300 settlers on-site to protest demolition; vandals spray-paint 'you don't destroy synagogues' on Wall of Supreme Court.

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The Ayelet Hashahar synagogue in Givat Ze'ev.
The Ayelet Hashahar synagogue in Givat Ze'ev.Credit: Emil Salman / Jini

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday postponed the demolition of an illegally-built synagogue in Givat Ze'ev, northwest of Jerusalem, for two weeks. The demolition had been scheduled for Thursday.

The postponement was requested by the Jerusalem police, who feared that demolition of the synagogue would lead to revenge attacks and a further escalation of violence in the area of the capital.

Graffiti reading "You don't destroy a synagogue, we want a Jewish state," was spray-painted on a wall of the court building in Jerusalem early Wednesday morning.

The synangogue in question is one of two buildings - the other is a yeshiva - built without permits on private Palestinian land in the settlement of Givat Ze'ev.

The buildings are part of a stone enclosure on a sloping plot of land belonging to Raba'a Allatif, a resident of the village of Jib.

Graffiti on the Supreme Court, November 4, 2015.Credit: Israel Police Spokeman Unit

About 300 settlers moved into the synagogue compound on Tuesday night in protest at the intention to demolish the building.

The settlers, who are mainly from the extremist settlement of Yitzhar and other outposts, have not indicated how long they intend remaining in the compound.

Channel 10 TV reporter Roy Sharon was reportedly assaulted by some of the protesters in the compound on Wednesday. The settlers accused him of being opposed to their cause and hit and pushed him until he left.

In her decision postponing the demolition, High Court President Miriam Naor noted that it had been more than a year since the court ruled that the evacuation orders needed to be implemented.

"We can't ignore the professional standing of the police and their concern about lawlessness by extreme elements," Naor wrote, "but at the same time, we do not believe that the grounds given for the request justify another postponement of the court order.

"Acceptance of the grounds provided by the police could delay the implementation of the court order beyond the period requested and that is not an acceptable outcome in a state governed by law."

In order to enable the police to organize sufficiently for the implementation of the court's order, Naor postponed the demolition until November 17, noting that she assumed they would not wait until the last moment.   

Settlers began constructing the Ayelet Hashahar synagogue on the land in 1998, while construction of the yeshiva for newly religious married men, which belongs to an organization called Banayich Zion, began in 2008.

Allatif  petitioned the High Court of Justice in July 2008, demanding that the Civil Administration unit of the Israel Defence Forces carry out existing demolition orders. The petition was supported by Yesh Din, an NGO supporting Palestinian rights under Israeli occupation.

Givat Ze'ev residents argued in response that they had purchased the land. The justices issued a temporary injunction forbidding further construction and cancelling the petition.

Allatif then complained to the police that the purchase documents for the land, dated 1991, had been forged. The police initially closed the case, but reopened it on appeal.

An investigation by the police's Division of Identification and Forensic Science revealed that the signatory on the document was both the buyer and the seller of the land. Still, police closed the case against the suspects due to lack of evidence.

Allatif and Yesh Din again petitioned the court in December 2011, demanding the buildings be demolished. In September 2013, the state informed the court that the buildings would be demolished by March 1st, 2014, either by the property holders or by the state. That position had the consent of the Defense Minister's adviser for settlements.

The date has since been postponed a number of times, with the latest - and, until Wednesday court decision, the final - date being November 5.

Members of the synagogue have reportedly tried to buy the land from the owner, but he has refused to sell. In addition, they say they now have proof of their legitimate ownership of the land.

In the past few weeks, a number of right-wing cabinet ministers and Knesset members have harshly criticized the High Court for issuing an interim order freezing the demolition of the homes of six terrorists.

MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) wrote on Facebook two weeks ago that Justice Uzi Vogelman, who issued the interim order, had “placed himself on the side of the enemy. He is protecting the rights of murderers, thus preventing a deterrent punishment and endangering life.”

Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, rejected the criticism as "slander," saying "there is absolutely no validity to accusations of delaying discussions of the demolition of terrorists’ homes and complaints of that sort.”

“The frustrations of politicians and various writers, sometimes with astonishing ignorance and some not by mistake, should not be taken out on the court." Rubenstein added.