Saturday, February 24, 2007

Teaneck synagogue seeks to aid West Bank

Here is the article from today's New Jersey Record:

Teaneck synagogue seeks to aid West Bank
Friday, February 23, 2007

By JOHN CHADWICK
STAFF WRITER


A Teaneck synagogue may become a flashpoint this weekend in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Congregation B'nai Yeshurun will host a real estate fair aimed at persuading American Jews to buy property in the disputed territories of the West Bank.

"The purchase of a home ... is an ideological gesture of love of the Land of Israel," said a letter to potential American investors from the Israeli group that's conducting the event.

But critics say such land sales would inflame the conflict by bringing more Jewish settlers to the predominantly Palestinian territories.

The settlements, built on land that Israeli forces seized in 1967 and continue to occupy, have been condemned as obstacles to peace by the United Nations, U.S. government officials and even many Israelis.

A Teaneck resident said he's organizing a protest to take place outside the synagogue.

"Our objection to this happening in Teaneck and America is that it makes us complicit in Israel's violation of international law," said Richard Siegel, who is active in the group New Jersey Solidarity.

Fast facts

 An Israeli settler group is asking American Jews to buy property in the disputed territories of the West Bank.

 A Teaneck synagogue is backing the program by hosting a real estate fair Sunday for potential investors.

 Critics say the effort will inflame the Mideast because it bolsters Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory.

 Some Jews believe they have a religious obligation to settle in the biblical land of Israel.

A prominent North Jersey Palestinian agreed, adding that the event is inherently racist.

"I'm sure if I attended the meeting and told them I was an American citizen interested in purchasing land that I would be denied," said Aref Assaf of the American Arab Forum in Paterson. "And yet I was born there."

The group organizing the meeting -- the Amana Settlement Movement -- did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, the spiritual leader of B'nai Yeshurun, represents an Orthodox Jewish community that, generally speaking, opposes a Palestinian state and holds that Jews have a right, and a responsibility, to settle in the territories that are part of the biblical land of Israel.

Indeed, Pruzansky, who calls the territories by their biblical names of Judea and Samaria, said the meeting will be held in the sanctuary of his synagogue -- rather than in its conference room -- to underscore the notion of religious duty.

"It's not occupied land -- it's disputed, unallocated land," Pruzansky said. "And Israel certainly has a valid claim."

He blamed the Mideast conflict on Arabs who don't recognize Israel.

"I don't think there is much hope for peace in my lifetime, unless the Messiah comes," Pruzansky said. "And the main reason is that there are too many people who are not reconciled to Israel's existence."

About 250,000 Jews, including many from New York and New Jersey, live in the West Bank. The actual settlement towns constitute a tiny fraction of the land, but settlers control more than 40 percent of the land in the West Bank, according to statistics compiled by Peace Now, Israel's largest peace group.

There are about 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, according to the U.S. government.

The bid to seek American investment is a relatively new program and reflects the worries of settlers about whether their numbers will continue to grow.

Amana's letter to American Jews notes that the Israeli government has stopped subsidizing new homes.

"Almost all communities in [the West Bank] are full, with no possibility of accepting new young couples or families," the letter says. "If we don't find a solution now, we will create our own population freeze, which may, in turn, begin a phenomenon ... of families leaving in communities."

The letter said single-family homes cost as little as $120,000. American Jews are being asked to buy a home and then rent it to settlers for about $250 per month.

Investors may buy vacant land to build new homes, or preexisting homes, said Dov Hikind, an assemblyman from Brooklyn who's promoting the program.

Pruzansky said the meeting will provide an overview to potential investors as well as answers to questions on financing, security and other issues.

American Jews are divided.

Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, a strong supporter of the settlements, said the program is "a statement that Jews from America, Europe and anywhere else have a sacred right to live on this land."

A spokesman for Americans for Peace Now disagreed.

"As a matter of principle, we think it's wrong for Americans to be underwriting a politically damaging enterprise," Ori Nir said. "We think the whole settlement movement is damaging to Israel in many ways."

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