Court convicts Rabbi Arik Ascherman of interfering in house demolitions

Associated Press in Haaretz, March 22, 2005, 3/22/2005

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court handed down a guilty verdict Tuesday in the case of an American-born rabbi who tried to prevent bulldozers from demolishing illegally built Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

However, prosecutors 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.

Ascherman, who was tried along with other 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 was convicted 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 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 begin the rebuilding of one of these homes."

The foundation of that house, razed in April 2003, still stands, with old shoes strewn about.

Activists on Tuesday made a symbolic mix of cement for the cornerstone of what they hope will be a new house in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya.

Ahmed Mussa Daari, who built the home that was razed for his seven-member family, said he was "sad to hear the decision today because one man helping another man should not be illegal."