JERUSALEM – Israel’s high court of justice yesterday confirmed a temporary injunction issued against the demolition of synagogues in Gaza’s former Jewish communities, allowing time for senior rabbis to plead their case that the destructions violate Jewish law.
The ruling sets the stage for what is expected to be a tense ideological showdown.
The Israeli Defense Forces is citing previous rampant Palestinian desecrations of other religions’ holy sites as justification for the demolitions of the 20 Gaza synagogues.
Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia today issued the order in response to a petition for a further hearing regarding the synagogue demolitions submitted by the former rabbi of a Jewish Gaza community. She rejected a demand by the state prosecutor to allow the demolitions to take place this week.
Under a previous court decision, now set to be debated Sunday, the synagogues were to be emptied prior to their destruction, with religious items being transferred to other synagogues in neighborhoods slated to house former Jewish residents of Gaza.
Israel’s chief rabbinate has announced the synagogue demolitions contravene Jewish law.
Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen, former chief rabbi of Haifa and a member of the 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 Gaza residents don’t have homes yet to live in, new synagogues have not been built, so there isn’t even a question.”
The senior rabbis expressed fear Jews in other parts of the world may use the Gaza bulldozings as precedent to destroy other abandoned synagogues.
Yesterday, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former chief rabbi of Israel, suggested asking the United Nations to provide guards to protect the holy sites.
Cohen echoed that suggestion: “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.”
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,” said Cohen. “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 largely is considered one of the most extreme 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 subsequently was erected in its place.