JERUSALEM (May. 18)
A joint Israeli-Palestinian commission will investigate allegations made by settlers and yeshiva students that Palestinian police desecrated the ancient synagogue in the West Bank town of Jericho.
On Wednesday, National Religious Party Knesset member Hanan Porat said he would sleep in the synagogue to prevent “further desecrations.”
Porat’s vow came after settlers and students said that Palestinian police had ripped away a mezuzah from a door at the synagogue and tore the ornamental curtain covering the Holy Ark.
The Palestinian police in turn claimed that six armed students came to the synagogue and attempted to fly an Israeli flag from the roof.
They said that the students had ignored a police request to put aside their weapons.
Under the terms of the autonomy accord, settlers are allowed to visit the synagogue at any time. But the Palestinian police want them to be unarmed.
While there are no Jewish settlers living in Jericho, Israeli students have attempted to keep the synagogue in the news on an almost daily basis following last Friday’s Israeli hand-over to Palestinian control of a 24-square-mile area that forms the newly autonomous Jericho district.
The students previously alleged that Palestinian police had moved their equipment into the synagogue and hung a photograph of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat alongside the Holy Ark.
Commenting on the alleged desecration, President Ezer Weizman said that both sides would need “patience and tolerance.
“This is not a good beginning,” Weizman said. “If our partners in this agreement do not understand” the need for looking after the property of others and showing it respect, “then we are starting off on the left foot.”
In an address to the Labor Party’s Knesset faction on Wednesday, Police Minister Moshe Shahal stated that he supported Palestinian demands to disarm Israelis wanting to pray or study at the ancient synagogue.
Shahal criticized the yeshiva students for allegedly insulting the Palestinian police officer guarding the building.
“The students must not treat the (Palestinian) police as if they did not exist,” he said. “That is a provocation. They are human beings, just like us.”