Small Consolation: Israel Won´t Destroy Synagogues

Overturning two previous decisions, the Cabinet voted to leave the Gush Katif synagogues intact. The Palestinian Authority is already threatening to raze them.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 12:41

View Arutz-7's Photo Essay of Gush Katif Synagogues.
See also video coverage at end of this report.


Fourteen ministers voted against the destruction, while two - Chaim Ramon and Ophir Pines of Labor - voted to destroy them. Minister Dalia Itzik of Labor abstained.

Following the Supreme Court's narrow 4-3 decision not to intervene in the Cabinet decisions on this matter, the momentum started swinging towards a change in the decision.

The first to announce a change of heart on the matter was Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz. Immediately following the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday evening, Mofaz asked Prime Minister Sharon to have the Cabinet reconsider the issue.

By this morning, another seven Likud ministers, as well as some from Labor, had jumped on the bandwagon, giving a majority to those opposing the destruction. Among those who said they would oppose were Ministers Shalom, Katz, Naveh, Livnat, Hirschson, Ezra and HaNegbi. "Jews don't destroy synagogues," Minister Shalom said.

Labor ministers who took this position were Ben-Eliezer ("The Nation of Israel has gone through enough of late"), Matan Vilnai ("What, are we crazy enough to destroy our own synagogues?!"), and Simchon.

Dalia Itzik abstained, after having said that she would vote against and hold the rabbis responsible for the "difficult scenes" of Arab desecration of the synagogues. All rabbis consulted on the issue have said that it is better for Arabs to desecrate the synagogues than for Jews to demolish them.

A bit later this morning, the Likud's Meir Sheetrit also said he would vote against the razing, explaining that he would defer to the unanimous rabbinical opinion on the issue.

Prime Minister Sharon went into this morning's Cabinet meeting saying he was not sure how he would vote on the "buildings that used to be synagogues." In the course of the session, he decided to join the majority.

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who generally takes part in the Cabinet meetings, sharply criticized the ministers for changing their minds "for no reason." He said the entire process was "embarrassing and will have a price."

The Supreme Court had a significant role in the process leading to the decision to leave the synagogues standing. On August 16, the Court issued a two-day stay against the destruction, instructing the government to consider options other than destruction, including the partial or whole-scale dismantling of the structures and their rebuilding elsewhere in Israel.

A week later, a three-justice panel ruled that the synagogues could be destroyed. It relied in part on the minority opinion of Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger that the structures could be voided of their sanctity. (Rabbi Metzger later changed his mind.) Judges Rubenstein and Beinish rejected what was the overwhelming rabbinic opinion, saying it was likely that the Arabs would vandalize the buildings. Only Justice Edmond Levy sided against destruction.

Four days later, on August 28, the Cabinet decided to discuss the issue once again, following a plea from the Chief Rabbinate Council. Chief Rabbis Amar and Metzger, as well as Rabbinate Council members Rabbis She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, Kook and Deri, met with the ministers for nearly three hours. They apparently made a good case: It was decided that a team of rabbis and Defense Ministry engineers would visit and analyze each synagogue, decide what could be dismantled, and present their findings to the Chief Rabbis and the Defense Minister.

On September 1, the Knesset Law Committee weighed in on the issue, resolving that a decision to destroy the synagogues in Gush Katif "would have long-standing negative ramifications on the efforts to prevent harm to synagogues around the world." The committee, headed by Likud MK Michael Eitan, therefore called on the government to discuss the issue once again, "in light of its tremendous sensitivity."

On Sept. 6, a seven-justice Supreme Court panel issued an interim decision unanimously calling upon the government to turn to the United States, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations. The intention was to see if these bodies could help in guaranteeing that the synagogues not be vandalized or desecrated by the Arabs of Gaza. The decision was called "historic" by Atty. Gilad Corinaldi, who filed the original petition against the destruction, in that it represented an unusual intervention in government policy.

Two days later, however, the Court ruled by a narrow 4-3 decision not to further intervene in the issue, and to allow the Cabinet decision to stand.

The politicians then began to take a stronger stand, at the urging of the rabbis and with party primaries looming in the near future, and today's decision to leave the synagogues standing was the final result.

Playing a major role behind the scenes were MK Eli Yishai of Shas and Rabbis Simcha HaCohen Kook, She'ar-Yashuv Cohen, Chanan Porat, and others.

Of the 31 Gush Katif synagogues, six were built in a temporary manner, their sanctity can be Halakhically voided, and they will be razed. Six others will be dismantled and transferred to mainland Israel for possible rebuilding. The 19 others, including the large synagogues and yeshivot in N'vei Dekalim, Kfar Darom, Atzmona, Gan-Or, Katif, Ganei Tal and elsewhere, will remain standing. Photos of the synagogues can be seen here.

Pro-Land of Israel groups have made an appeal to apply the same ruling to the synagogues in the abandoned communities in northern Shomron.

Palestinian Authority officials were not happy about today's Cabinet decision - and implied that the holy structures would not remain standing for long. Hisham Abdel Razek said, "What the Israelis didn't do, the Palestinians will do instead. The Israelis must know that everything they built in the conquered areas is a symbol of the conquest and must be taken down."

Another PA minister, Sofian Abu Zaide, called upon Israel not to put the PA to the test of preserving the synagogues: "Israel is making a mistake, or maybe it's purposeful. You want to show the world that the Palestinians act with vulgarity to holy sites."

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