Rabbi convicted for blocking demolition

A magistrate's court has handed down a guilty verdict in the case of an American-born rabbi who tried to prevent Israeli bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

    Ascherman's group opposes demolition of Palestinian homes

    However, prosecutors on Tuesday asked the court to set aside the verdict and allow Rabbi Arik Ascherman, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, to perform community service.

     

    In this case, Ascherman would not have a criminal record. Ascherman heads the group Rabbis for Human Rights, which tries to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

     

    The case resonates with the wider issue of who controls Jerusalem. Israel claims the entire city as its capital.

     

    Palestinians seek east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war, as capital of a future state.

     

    Obstacles

     

    Ascherman, who was tried along with two other Jewish activists, claims Israel has tried to prevent Palestinian growth in the city by creating bureaucratic obstacles to

    obtaining building permits.

     

    He says he blocked the bulldozers because he had a moral responsibility to stop

    them.

     

    Ascherman blocked an Israeli
    bulldozer

    Ascherman was convicted on Tuesday of interfering with police performance of duties on two different occasions in 2003, and the intention to commit acts to prevent police from performing their duties.

     

    He said he was disappointed the court "did not decide to relate the decision to the policy of home demolition in any way".

     

    "For us, this trial really was about the people who have no voice here, the victims of home demolition. And that's why we're going immediately from the courthouse...to begin the rebuilding of one of these homes."

     

    Unusual gesture

     

    Defence attorney Leah Zemmel told the court during the trial, "It was discriminatory to bring this group to trial for non-violent protest while not arresting settlers" for

    protesting removal of settlements.

     

    In an unusual gesture, the prosecution called on the court to set aside the verdict because Ascherman and his group are "not criminals, and in fact are upstanding citizens".

     

    The trial concerned those who had
    become homeless, said the rabbi

    On the other hand, the prosecutor warned that "especially in these days" - a reference to the planned evacuation this summer of 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank against stiff opposition from settlers - such protests could pose a danger.

     

    "One can imagine what the situation would be here if we were to allow this kind of resistance," the prosecutor told the court.

     

    No decision about setting aside the verdict was announced.

     

    Foundation

     

    The foundation of one of these houses razed in April 2003 still stands, with crushed shoes and toys strewn about.

     

    On Tuesday, Ahmad Mussa Daari, the previous homeowner, watched as his two sons and Ascherman mixed cement for the cornerstone of what they hope will be a new house in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya.

     

    "...one man helping another man should not be illegal"

    Ahmad Mussa Daari,
    previous homeowner

    Destruction of the homes left two large extended families homeless.

     

    The families did not obtain permits to enlarge their houses, which human rights activists say is nearly impossible for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

     

    Daari said he built the house a year before it was demolished to make room for his two sons and their new families.

     

    The seven-member Daari family now lives in a two-bedroom house.

     

    Holding the hand of his four-year-old son, Daari said he was "sad to hear the decision today, because one man helping another man should not be illegal".

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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