3 yeshiva students arrested after J'lem neighborhood dispute ends in bloodshed

"This is no longer a quarrel over land, it’s two attempted murders now," says victim of brutal assault.

ARIK PELZIN 370 (photo credit: Daniel K. Eisenbud)
(photo credit: Daniel K. Eisenbud)
An acrimonious 40-year-old land dispute between a yeshiva and the man who lives next door culminated in bloodshed and the arrests of three students on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion Thursday, after one man survived a brutal attack and his assistant remains in serious condition.
Arik Pelzin, 65, has lived next to the Diaspora Yeshiva on the historic hillside, just beyond the Old City's Zion Gate, since the early ’70s.
Pelzin said he was attacked on Thursday, November 7 at approximately 9 p.m. inside the school by three young men with knives and a pipe, resulting in over 30 stitches.
“You see this,” said Pelzin as he pointed to the sutured gash above his forehead, “I’m lucky to be alive.”
Tuesday at approximately 10:30 a.m. his assistant of over 30 years, Ednan Basila, a 50- year-old Arab man from east Jerusalem, was attacked on Pelzin’s property next to the yeshiva by assailants who threw a 15-kilo rock on his back while he was kneeling to pray.
The attack left Basila with four smashed vertebrae and a torn aorta, which caused massive internal bleeding, rendering him unconscious.
Following emergency surgery Tuesday night, he remains in serious condition at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
A police spokesman, on Thursday, confirmed the attacks against Pelzin and Basila and said three of the yeshiva’s students were arrested since Wednesday for their alleged roles in the assaults.
Pelzin, a sculptor who also runs a restaurant and museum on his property, claims that the attacks were ordered by the yeshiva’s octogenarian leader Mordechai Goldstein’s son, Yitzhak, who lives at the school and has aggressively sought Pelzin’s 0.1 hectare of land for decades.
According to Pelzin, Goldstein has repeatedly attempted to destroy an ancient stone wall separating the properties and has ordered students and vandals to loot his yard of various sculptures and other personal belongings.
Pelzin said this is the third time he has been assaulted near his home by either students or hired thugs.
“For years he has sent people to destroy the wall between us, take my belongings and intimidate me,” said Pelzin. “Now the police are involved, as well as the Department of Antiquities, which has demanded he restore the wall, which is a historical relic that should be protected.”
Goldstein vehemently and patently denied the allegations against him and the yeshiva on Wednesday, stating he “absolutely condemns such violence.”
“He thinks I was behind this?” he asked. “I’m sorry he said that, because it’s not true.
Actually we spoke very nicely and have been at peace for a long time, so I think it’s amazing that he’s making these allegations.”
Pelzin uniformly denies Goldstein’s insistence of peaceful coexistence between the two.
Indeed, he said that despite an agreement he reached with Goldstein’s father six months ago to trade the land the yeshiva wants for more property rights to a rooftop area located above Pelzin’s restaurant overlooking the school, the dispute came to a head last Thursday.
“Mordechai tried to end the dispute with the land exchange and we submitted the plans to the Land Authority for approval, but Yitzhak refuses to recognize the deal I made with his father and said he would take the land by force,” he said.
Thursday morning, while Pelzin and his assistant were attempting to reconstruct the damaged wall separating the properties, he claimed Goldstein called the police, stating the area belonged to the yeshiva.
After officers arrived on the scene, Pelzin said he and Yitzhak agreed to meet with a mediator the following morning to finally resolve the issue.
“We shook hands and I thought everything was fine,” said Pelzin.
However, at 9 that night, Pelzin said he heard a loud noise on his property and when he walked outside to see what happened saw a man flee his backyard. Seconds later, he said, numerous metal objects and rocks were hurled at him.
“It was so dark I couldn’t see who was throwing them at me,” he said.
Suspecting the assailants came from the yeshiva, Pelzin said he walked roughly 50 meters to the school and entered the main doorway when he saw three young men in their late teens sitting nearby, whom he believed may have entered his property.
“I said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ and a split second later they attacked me with a metal pipe and knives,” he said.
During the assault Pelzin sustained a 12-cm. gash to his scalp and two stab wounds to his right hand, which he said he held over his head to protect himself.
Covered in blood after the attack, Pelzin said he walked to the yeshiva’s beit midrash (study hall), roughly 5 meters away, and asked those present to call an ambulance, which arrived minutes later to take him to Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, where he spent the night.
“I’m now having problems with my vision and am always dizzy,” said Pelzin. “Nothing is the same anymore.”
On Tuesday morning while Basila, whom he described as “like a son or brother,” was kneeling to pray by the wall separating the properties, Pelzin claimed students from the yeshiva threw the heavy rock on him, breaking his back and severing his aorta.
Basila remains in serious condition and it is unclear if he will walk again, said Pelzin.
“He could have died from this and if he did it will be murder,” he said. “This is no longer a quarrel about land, it’s two attempted murders.”
Goldstein refuted Pelzin’s version of events, claiming he was present at the yeshiva when he rushed in screaming with blood already on him. He also claimed his students called the ambulance, got cloths to clean the blood off his face and gave him a cup of water.
“There’s no way I or this school has anything to do with this attack,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how much I condemn such actions.”
While Goldstein conceded the two men have had tensions in the past, he said their disagreements never approached the realm of violence.
“We’re not on that level, thank God,” he said.
Goldstein went on to claim that he was the one who initiated peace with Pelzin years ago and said he was incredulous that such serious allegations have been made against him.
“I just feel sorry for him and pray for his quick recovery, as well as his assistant,” he said.
While police did not confirm if Goldstein is a suspect in the assaults, the spokesman confirmed the investigation is ongoing and could result in more arrests.