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Israel convicts Rabbi for trying to stop demolition of Palestinian homes

Rabbi convicted for protesting demolitions

It was a bittersweet loss for Rabbi Arik Ascherman at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Tuesday.

He was found guilty of trying to prevent Israeli bulldozers from demolishing illegally built Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, but the court spared him a criminal record by agreeing with the prosecutor's unusual request to allow the rabbi to perform community service instead.

In his request, the prosecutor noted that Ascherman and his group "are not criminals, and in fact are upstanding citizens."

However, the prosecutor added that "especially in these days" [of the Gaza withdrawal] such protests could pose a danger to society.

Ascherman, who is a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, heads Rabbis for Human Rights, which among other things, attempts to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

He said Israel has tried to prevent Palestinian growth in Jerusalem by creating bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining building permits.

He said he blocked the bulldozers because he had a moral responsibility to stop them.

"This was a total surprise," said Ascherman. "We are still going through consultations, but our tendencies are leaning towards accepting the offer of the prosecution."

"I think that, in a way, this is a victory for us," said defense attorney Leah Zemel. "I am quite satisfied that at least at this stage, the prosecution wants less than the court."

He added that he was upset the judge chose not to address the larger issue presented by Ascherman's defense.

"The deep deep disappointment on our part is that the judge didn't in any serious way address the every extensive material we presented before the court documenting the clear discrimination and corruption which is involved in the home demolition policy," said Ascherman.

Ascherman's conviction originates in two different occasions in 2003 wherein he prevented bulldozers from completing the demolition of two Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

The demolitions left two large families homeless.

Also on trial were activists Shai Eliezer Tzvi and Omer Ori, who were charged with joining Ascherman in his offenses.

While Ori was offered the same amount of community service as Ascherman, Tzvi is currently abroad and his participation in the trial has been temporarily halted.

The court found Ascherman guilty of interfering with the performance of police duties on the two occasions, and the intent to commit acts to prevent police from performing their duties.

Almost immediately after the verdict was handed down, Ascherman met with Ahmed Mussa Da'ari, the previous owner of one the two homes that Ascherman tried to protect.

Together with Da'ari's two sons, Ascherman mixed cement and laid down a symbolic new foundation for what they hope will be their new home in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya.

"It is in rebuilding the homes that justice will be done or not done," Ascherman said.


Jerusalem Post, "Rabbi convicted for protesting demolitions", 22 March 2005.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 22 March 2005.

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Tags: Israel, Rabbi, convicted, protest, demolition, Palestinian, homes, , conspiracy theories.

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