Providing settler terrorism with a tailwind

The police request to postpone the demolition of a synagogue built on Palestinian land for fear of right-wing attacks is a clear surrender to threat of violence.

By Yesh Din, written by Yossi Gurvitz

Palestinians from the village Duma gather at the Dawabshe house, which was attacked by two arsonists Friday morning. Ali , an 18-month-old toddler, was burned to death in the attack. His parents and four-year-old brother are currently hospitalized in Israel in serious condition. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Palestinians from the village Duma gather at the Dawabshe house, which was attacked by two arsonists Friday morning. Ali , an 18-month-old toddler, was burned to death in the attack. His mother and father later succumbed to their wounds. (photo: Oren Ziv/

The case of the Givat Ze’ev synagogue combines almost all of the ills of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Last week we witnessed a new low, when the High Court of Justice dealt with a request that has sadly become all-too-common: to rescind, through postponement, its own verdict. This was a cowardly and audacious request by the police, to which the court acceded. How did we get here?

Let’s begin with the legal picture. On July 31st, 2014 the High Court ruled that an illegally-built synagogue in Givat Ze’ev is to be demolished, as it was built on private Palestinian land belonging to Rabah Abdallatif. In plain words: Israeli civilians stole and built a synagogue on it.

The sharp-eyed among you may notice that the original demolition date, July 31st, 2015 is more than three months behind us. Due to a series of empty motions, the demolition was postponed time after time. First to August 10th and then to October 13th – after the prime minister himself asked to postpone the demolition until after the Jewish High Holidays. A day before the demolition date, a new empty motion was served to the court, which was quashed with prejudice.

The new demolition order was set for October 20th. Two days earlier, the government asked for a new postponement, claiming the security situation does not permit it to allocate the forces required for the demolition. You would be surprised to hear, then, that a day after that request was served, Israeli Police actually found the necessary forces to evacuate two Palestinian families from a house in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem, enforcing a court ruling in favor the far-right Ateret Cohanim organization. Turns out that finding the “adequate forces” is a matter of will. The government sought to postpone the demolition of the synagogue to December 1st; the High Court allotted it a shorter period of time – until November 5th.

Lo and behold: in what became a routine procedure for a government that dares not enforce the law when it comes to its political supporters, the police informed the High Court on the eve of November 2nd that due to the security situation, it once more wants to postpone the demolition.

This time, the police came up with an even more audacious and dangerous claim, according to which the security situation and terror attacks are “causing bitterness, frustration and restlessness with the current situation. These feelings are a platform among extreme right wing for ‘price tag’ actions.” Thus, the police asked for a postponement.

Read: Israel admits right-wing violence works

This is what the police is telling us: Listen, there are some hooligans here. If we try to enforce the law, they will harm people and we can do nothing to do about it.” In the classic blackmail scenario, there is a goon and the person who kindly explains to you that you’d better do as the goon says. Threatening you? Not at all! He’d be insulted at the suggestion. He merely suggests you do the logical thing, security-wise. It would be such a shame if a fire broke out here, no?

And if the lawbreakers are the hooligan in this story, then the police plays the part of the person convincing you to give in to the threats. The police. You know, the people supposed to protect you from lawbreakers.

In case the justices of the High Court didn’t get the hint, a day before the planned demolition — in a step that was no less than a threat toward them — a protest slogan was spray painted on the walls of the court. The message is clear: we can get to you, just as we can get to the houses of Palestinians in the West Bank.

And if the High Court folds before the threats presented by the police, one thing is certain: these threats will repeat themselves. The government of Israel is happy to give in to the threats of these fearless, uncontrolled zealots. And if it could convince the court that there is no choice but to do so, the threats will continue. Because when all is said and done, these threats work.

The government came out of the courtroom with some success: the demolition was postponed – again – to November 17th, with the justices unable to hide their own impatience.

(Update: On November 18, the High Court partially accepted the state’s offer to spend NIS 5 million to relocate rather than demolish the synagogue.)

And one more thing: the people barricading in the synagogue call the structure a “minor temple.” Let them learn that a temple is not built on robbery, that it is not built on blood, and that virtue is not supported by sin. Let them learn that King David bought the thrashing floor of Aruanah the Jebusite by paying its full worth, not seizing it by force. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her repentant ones with righteousness.

Written by Yossi Gurvitz in his capacity as a blogger for Yesh Din, Volunteers for Human Rights. A version of this post was first published on Yesh Din’s blog.

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