The High Court of Justice delayed on Wednesday the demolition of a synagogue in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev until November 17, after police warned it could spark retaliatory “pricetag” attacks against Palestinians that would only further fuel already raging violence that has rocked the country.
News of the delay came as hundreds of young male activists camped out in the small stone one-story synagogue called Ayelet Hashachar, so they could physically thwart any attempt by security forces to raze the building.
Activists had already partially blocked the gate to the courtyard with a trashcan and tires. Other activists had stockpiled eggs on the roof.
Head of Givat Ze'ev religious council: "Why is it so urgent?"
Large banners hung on the gates that stated, “Down with the Supreme Court’s racism” and “Why are you destroying synagogues and not the houses of terrorists.”
As they waited for the verdict, some of the activists attacked Channel 10 reporter Roy Sharon, forcing him and his camera crew to leave the area.
Overnight Tuesday, vandals scrawled red graffiti on a stone wall of the Supreme Court complex in Jerusalem warning against harming the synagogue.
“Don’t demolish synagogues. We want a Jewish state,” it said.
Hours earlier on Tuesday, the Israel police had petitioned the High Court of Justice to delay the demolition.
On Wednesday afternoon the justices said in their ruling, “The police believe destroying the building could lead right wing extremists to commit violent acts against Arabs and Muslim religious icons.”
In their petition the police said, “The protests are likely to spread beyond the community of Givat Ze’ev, where the synagogue is located, and to extend into Judea and Samaria and the rest of the country.”
“This will harm security and public order,” the police added, and asked the court to delay the demolition until November 26.
The justices agreed to a two week delay, and once it was announced, activists were asked to gather in the synagogue’s sanctuary.
One of the key organizers Yehuda Puah told them that this was a victory, but the battle was not over.
“What this means is that they [security forces] can come at any time in the next two weeks to destroy the synagogue,” he said.
“So you have to consider, if you want to stay or go,” he added. “In the past it was always a question of only a day or so,” Puah said.
Just be to be clear, “We have made history here, no one should leave with the feeling that we have lost.”
His words were greeted with cheers and song.
The court has issued a number of rulings regarding the synagogue.
Last month the state had asked for a delay, explaining that security forces were needed to maintain calm and prevent violence around the country.
The Ayelet Hashachar synagogue has served the Givat Ze’ev community for the last two decades.
Seven years ago the nongovernmental group Yesh Din petitioned the court against the synagogue after it was discovered that documents relating to the purchase of its property from Palestinian land owners were forged.
In 2014, a court ordered the synagogue destroyed.
Subsequent appeals by the community of worshipers were all rejected.
Already in August, on orders from the court, synagogue members evacuated their possessions from the building, including Torah scrolls, in advance of its expected destruction.
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened and asked the High Court to stave off the demolition until October 13, so as not to destroy the building during the holiday period.
The court acceded to his request. In the interim, the rabbi of Givat Ze’ev, Yosef Toledano, appealed to the High Court to reconsider its ruling.
Toledano argued that the synagogue was protected by international law and could not legally be demolished.
The court rejected his argument.
In a 12-page ruling, they explained that international law was not applicable to this situation, as the synagogue was built on “occupied territory” and on private Palestinian property without the owners’ permission.
It also argued that synagogue members had violated the court order to evacuate the building and had used the structure in September.
Located just outside of Jerusalem, Givat Ze’ev has a population of almost 15,000 and is the fifth-largest West Bank settlement.