Monday, October 17, 2005

# Posted 11:46 AM by Patrick Belton  

KNOCKDOWN ARGUMENTS: Yaël Ronen, an Israeli student at Cambridge, summarises the governing legal arguments on the demolition of Israeli synagogues in the Gaza Strip:
A final benchmark for examining the demolition of the synagogues, by either Israel (had it been carried out) or the Palestinians, is supplied by the general standards of religious tolerance required under international law. Most of these standards appear in instruments that are not formally binding under international law, but they nevertheless have normative content and are widely accepted. The dissenting judge of the Israeli High Court of Justice quoted UN General Assembly Resolution 55/254 of 11 June 2001, in which the General Assembly “condemns all acts or threats of violence, destruction, damage or endangerment, directed against religious sites as such, that continue to occur in the world.” This Resolution, adopted in response to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, extends beyond its immediate circumstances, and reflects general standards concerning religious tolerance. These standards have been elaborated in the 1981 Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, in the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights,[25] in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action[26] and in UN action. Resolution 2003/54 of the Commission on Human Rights on the Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance,[27] for example, calls on all States “to exert the utmost efforts, in accordance with their national legislation and in conformity with international human rights standards, to ensure that religious places, sites and shrines are fully respected and protected and to take additional measures in cases where they are vulnerable to desecration or destruction.”[28]

[25] Adopted 25 June 1993, UN Doc. A/CONF.157/23, Part II, paragraph 22 (12 July 1993).
[26]Report of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance Durban, 31 August - 8 September 2001, UN Doc. A/CONF./189.12.
[27] 24 April 2003, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2003/L.11/Add.5.
[28] Paragraph 4(3).
So perhaps not formally speaking illegal, but at any rate still a fairly nasty thing to do.

UPDATE: A reader questions whether the removal of the Torah scrolls prior to the Israeli withdrawal may have effectively deconsecrated the synagogues under the texts quoted above. Anyone?
I believe that the UN Resolution refers to buildings functioning as religious venues. My understanding was that once the Torahs were out of the building it was just a building, i.e., like a deconsecrated church. What one does with the building afterwards has no meaning, except in this case as an example of self-damaging spite. The Palestinians could have turned the buildings into schools, clinics, community centers, or the like; instead they trashed them.
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