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Knesset Votes on Bills for Unification of Jerusalem and Protection of Holy Places

Israel’s Parliament approved a first reading today of three bills presented by the Government to authorize it to realize unification of New and Old Jerusalem under conditions which it hoped would avoid diplomatic difficulties. All but one of the deputies present voted for the first reading.

The measures provided for protection for the holy places, for formulation of laws in “newly-freed” territories and permitting the Government to name new municipal areas and new municipal councilors. Three readings are required for enactment into law. The measures would place all holy sites under the protection of the Israeli Government. The laws were presented by Justice Minister Yaacov Shapiro, Religious Affairs Minister Zerach Warhaftig and Deputy Interior Minister Israel Ben-Meir.

The “basic law” on protection of the holy sites would cover shrines sacred to Christianity. Judaism and Islam and would impose prison terms of up to seven years for desecration of the sites or for preventing worshipers from attending services at the sites. The municipality bill would authorize the Interior Minister to include, by administrative decision, an area into an existing municipality or to combine existing municipalities.

Under the measure, the Interior Minister also would be authorized to name municipal councilors from residents of the new municipal territories. While Jerusalem is not mentioned by name in the three measures, it was clear that the law was specifically designed to make possible the capital’s legal reunification.

The Premier and Dr. Warhaftig received tonight representatives of the three major religions and gave them assurances of religious freedom. It was believed that the Government was examining the possibility of creating a religious council, formed from representatives of the three religions, to supervise the holy sites and religious freedom for all.

Meanwhile, Israel began today to switch supervision of Jewish holy sites in Old Jerusalem from military to civilian auspices with an announcement that the Religious Affairs Ministry had assumed direction of the Wailing Wall and the Cave of Simon. It was assumed that the Ministry would soon take responsibility for the other Jewish holy places in the Old City.

The Ministry will soon name a team of supervisors to work out arrangements for visits to the sites and also take responsibility for their maintenance. Until now, supervision has been under direction of the Chief Chaplaincy of the Israel armed forces.

Representatives of Jerusalem burial societies submitted a report on the status of the graves on Mount of Olives. The report said that several thousand burial stones had been removed by the Jordanians, presumably for building purposes. Some graves had been destroyed by the Amman regime when it built highways across the traditional Jewish cemetery area. However, graves in the “Rabbis’ Section”–where some of the most famous rabbis are buried — were reported intact, including the grave of the late Chief Rabbi Kook.

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