Arik Ascherman, a US-born rabbi who heads the Rabbis for Human Rights movement, could face three years in prison if convicted. He is to be tried along with two others.

The authorities demolish homes in areas of the West Bank under Israeli control on the basis that they were built illegally.

But Ascherman, as well as several Israeli and Palestinian rights groups charge it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain construction permits.

"It is the policy of home demolitions which must stand trial, along with all the institutions which support it," Ascherman said in a statement.
 
"The families whose homes were demolished will be with us in court and I will feel that I am speaking for the thousands who have suffered and suffer from this policy," he added.

US rabbis protest

The young rabbi received the support of 300 US rabbis, who handed a letter to the Israeli embassy in Washington on Monday.

The open letter called for the government of Israel to drop the charges against the rabbi and to rescind the policy of home demolition.

The signatories to the letter also expressed concern about prosecuting a rabbi "who has devoted his life to Israel". 

The case against the rabbi relates to two separate occasions.

Ascherman described the scene at one demolition where "the families were hysterical".

"The grandmother was wailing while the father of the family was clutching at his heart and others were begging us to do something.  It was simply heartbreaking… we watched helplessly as the pneumatic drills tore into the home"

Rabbi Arik Ascherman,
Executive Director, Rabbis for Human Rights

"The grandmother was wailing while the father of the family was clutching at his heart and others were begging us to do something.  It was simply heartbreaking… we watched helplessly as the pneumatic drills tore into the home", he is quoted in a statement issued to Aljazeera.net

"To officer after officer I read off chapter and verse from the various international conventions which Israel is a party to".

But, Ascherman continued, "commanders ordered their people not to listen or take the paper.” 

The two demolitions that took place left two large extended families homeless within a matter of minutes, the statement added.