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May 17th, 2010
01:03 PM ET

Protests over Israel's grave removal show Jewish split

CNN's Guy Azriel reports that religious tensions among Israeli Jews are reaching new heights this week over the decision to relocate graves found at a spot where a hospital extension is to be built at the southern city of Ashkelon.

According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority the graves, dating back to the times of the Byzantine Empire, belong to pagans, but some ultra-Orthodox Jews are not convinced. Removing Jewish graves is against their interpretation of their faith.

Orthodox activists have embarked on a series of demonstrations from Ashkelon to Jerusalem. Some forty men were arrested by police in Jerusalem this morning for burning down garbage cans, blocking roads and damaging vehicles, traffic and street lights.

Despite the protests, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a go-ahead of the relocation. "There is an important Ultra-Orthodox public who sees itself hurt by the decision but public welfare is the decisive factor," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel backed Netanyahu, but views vary among different sections of the Orthodox public. The Chief Rabbinate is a state position which is not always considered a true authority to the ultra-orthodox community, which is led by its own rabbinical leaders.

The current controversy underscores the often acrimonious conflict between secular and Ultra Orthodox communities in the  Jewish state. The battle around the graves has become a symbol of the struggle between the secular community's insistence on taking care of the needs of the living verses the religious community's impassioned defense for the sanctity of the dead.

The Ashkelon hospital is the main medical facility in the Gaza area. It served Israeli civilians and soldiers during a conflict in January 2009, and has been in need of urgent expansion and missile protection.

Israeli authorities say the excavation works are to be completed within the next 24 hours.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Israel • Judaism • Politics

soundoff (One Response)
  1. peter klika

    Netanyahu will expand anything at any price to appease his political coalition. This expansion will serve the newly approved settlemnts. What next? Move the the Temple Mount l? The US could put some real pressure on Israel if it wanted to restrict the expansion of settlements by simply saying: More settlements equals no free American jet fighters. But no one in Washington has the guts to criticise the Israeli lobby except Jimmy Carter who is vilified as an anti-semite for actually exposing how corrupt and biased our Middle East policy is. Want more violence in the Middle East and hatred of America? Just sit back and and keep beleiving the political lullabies from Washington And Tel Aviv.

    November 19, 2010 at 2:02 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.