JERUSALEM – Senior Israeli rabbis are asking the international community to oppose a ruling this week by the country’s high court that synagogues left behind in evacuated Jewish Gaza towns may be destroyed by the army ahead of its final pullout from the area.
The Israeli military is citing previous rampant Palestinian desecrations of other religions’ holy sites as justification for the Gaza synagogue demolitions.
The Supreme Court rejected a petition Tuesday by the rabbi of a former community in Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish towns asking the Israeli Defense Forces to refrain from bulldozing synagogues. The IDF is set to demolish the religious structures along with former Katif residents’ homes starting as early as next week.
According to the decision, the synagogues will be emptied prior to their destruction, with religious items being transferred to other synagogues in neighborhoods slated to house former Katif residents.
Supreme Court judge Elyakim Rubenstein said in his ruling, “The decision was a difficult one, to the point of heartbreak.”
But in an emergency session last night, Israel’s chief rabbinate announced the synagogue demolitions contravene Jewish law. The senior rabbis expressed fear Jews in other parts of the world may use the Katif bulldozings as precedent to destroy other abandoned synagogues.
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa and a member of the chief rabbinate, told WND, “According to Jewish law, synagogues cannot be destroyed unless new ones are already built, and even then, the issues are complicated. Here, the former Gush Katif residents don’t have homes yet to live in, new synagogues have not been built, so there isn’t even a question.”
Cohen said the chief rabbinate is asking the international community to intercede.
“The international authorities must step in and protect our holy synagogues. Any world body that does not understand the importance of this is not worthy of acting within civilized society,” Cohen said.
He added Israel has acted differently toward abandoned Islamic structures.
“We see plenty of mosques in Israel that have been abandoned by communities that changed locations and it is understood the mosques are not to be touched. Indeed, they are protected. But here, I am shocked at the very idea Jews would propose to damage their own holy places. This would not be done by any other religion.”
The IDF has said it is destroying the synagogues out of fear they will be damaged, citing recent examples of Palestinian desecrations of other religions’ holy sites.
In 2002, Palestinian terrorists holed up in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity reportedly used the Bible as toilet paper, and left the site in shambles.
According to reports, the gunmen, members of Yasser Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, also seized church stockpiles of food and “ate like greedy monsters” until the food ran out, while more than 150 civilians stuck inside went hungry. Angry Orthodox priests showed reporters empty bottles of whiskey, champagne, vodka, cognac and French wine on the floor along with hundreds of cigarette butts.
In what is largely considered one of the most flagrant holy site desecrations in history, after Israeli troops evacuated the city of Nablus in October, 2000 as a peacemaking gesture, scores of Palestinians stormed into the Joseph’s Tomb compound and destroyed the site believed to be the burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph – the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became the viceroy of Egypt.
The 1993 Oslo Accords put Joseph’s Tomb under Israeli jurisdiction, but on Oct. 7, 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered a unilateral retreat, based on a Palestinian agreement to protect the site.
Within hours of the Israeli withdrawal, smoke was seen billowing from the tomb as an Arab crowd burned Jewish prayer books and other holy objects. Palestinians used pickaxes, hammers and later bulldozers to tear apart the stone building. The dome of the tomb was painted green, and a mosque was subsequently erected in its place.