El Matan Synagogue
El Matan Synagogue file

The residents of El-Matan could have forgiven the army a great deal, says Eitan Luz, a resident of the town, but one thing they will not forgive – or allow – is the sealing of the synagogue in their town. He said. “We plan to make it as difficult as possible for security forces to seal the synagogue,” adding that the residents really have little choice: “After sealing usually comes demolishing, and we are not going to let them demolish a synagogue in the Land of Israel.”

A High Court order to seal the synagogue at El-Matan, a new community within the boundaries of the established town of Ma'ale Shomron, expired on Monday – leaving the army with little choice at this point but to proceed with the sealing of the building, preventing anyone from entering and using it as a place of worship.

The order was first handed down last June, in response to a lawsuit by several neighboring Arab villages and presented by leftist legal rights group Yesh Din. After several appeals, the El-Matan Citizens' Committee lost the case last August, and the state was given 60 days to carry out the sealing of the building. That deadline has come and gone, says Luz, and the feeling among residents is that security forces will descend on the town in a day or two to carry out their High Court orders.

But they won't have an easy time fulfilling those orders, he said. “Right now, as of Tuesday night, it's still quiet; anyone can come and go. But it won't remain quiet for long, as we have information that the army is getting ready to bring in forces for the sealing,” Luz says. What they will find when they move in, he says, are hundreds of volunteers who will surround and remain inside the synagogue, fending off the army's tractors. Residents don't intend to use violence, Luz says, “but I can't speak for the army. But we do not intend to go quietly. This is not just a building; it is a synagogue, and we intend to make sealing this synagogue as difficult as we can for the army.”

In its appeals to the High Court, the Citizens' Committee pointed out the plethora of illegal building by Arabs in the area, arguing that the court was discriminating against them by demanding the sealing of a synagogue – while it had no problem when Arabs built an illegal in the nearby village of Burin. “I don't accuse the court of anti-Semitism or of being anti-Synagogue,” says Luz. “They are anti-settlement in general and are happy to act on any petition brought to them by leftists or Arabs – as was the case here.”

Besides the hundreds of volunteers who will greet security forces, Luz says the town has a backup plan as well. “If the army does succeed in its mission, we have a large staff ready to unseal the building very quickly – or even build a new, temporary one, if they is what is necessary.” Meanwhile, he said, residents – and the many supporters who have arrived to help out – plan to use the synagogue as usual over the next several days. “Prayers and classes will continue,” Luz says. “There are plenty of books for everyone, and our Sefer Torah is staying in the synagogue's Holy Ark, where it belongs,” Luz says, adding “we do not intend to remove it in honor of the security forces.”