After terminating his correspondence with
Matti Dan, Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens &
Jerusalem Co-director Haim Dov Beliak solicited the commentaries
by knowledgeable scholars which follow.
by Dr. Aryeh Cohen, Professor of Talmud and Jewish Thought
at the University of Judaism, Los Angeles.
Starting with Motti Dan's final comment, I personally witnessed
the fine relations between the Jewish members of Ateret Kohanim
and their Palestinian neighbors. Standing on the roof of Torat
Kohanim, a Yeshivah established in the Moslem quarter, I watched
as furniture and other household belongings were forcibly
removed from an adjoining building in a successful attempt
to forcefully evict the Palestinian families that lived there.
I wonder if those Palestinians also think that "there
is actually friendship, tolerance and understanding between
the Jewish settlers" in the Moslem quarter and their
I do not have any information which might confirm or deny
the veracity of Motti Dan's claims about the ownership of
the Ras al-Amud property. Therefore, I will grant his claim
that this property was once owned by Jews. However, in Jewish
law, rights of ownership are impinged by the needs of the
As a paradigmatic story, our Father Abraham ceded his Divine
rights over parts of the Land of Israel in the interest of
peace with Lot. It was only after this ceding of rights that
God gave Abraham His eternal blessing.
In the Halakhic tradition property rights are never absolute.
There are many instances in which the use of one's property
is curtailed because of the damage that that use would cause
the community (either monetary or environmental damage). There
is no 'takings clause' (the demand that the government compensate
a property owner when he is forbidden from using his property)
in Jewish Law since the community's needs supersede the individual's.
When a person overplays their property rights, it is referred
to as 'the actions of Sodom.' So ownership, in and of itself,
of a piece of property does not necessarily translate into
the right to exploit that ownership at any cost.
In Jewish law peace is seen as a supreme value, as is the
safeguarding of life. As to the former, even the name of God
is erased in the cause of peace, as the Rabbis say. As to
the latter, even the Sabbath is desecrated to save a life.
&& Therefore, it seems pretty obvious, that building
on a piece of property which both endangers the lives of the
settlers and their Palestinian neighbors, and works against
a peaceful solution between Jews and Palestinians in Israel
would run counter to the letter and spirit of Jewish tradition
* * *
by Richard D. Hecht, Professor of Religious Studies, University
of California, Santa Barbara
Mattiyahu Dan is a long-time activist for Ataret-Cohanim.
Activists like Dan have sought since the late 1960s to build
the Jewish sanctity of Jerusalem by taking up residence in
what they believe are former Jewish properties. I met Dan
in Winter 1984 when I signed up for a walking-tour of Ataret-Cohanim
properties, all examples of what their literature described
as "good works" reclaiming Jewish real estate in
the Old City. Dan was our guide, providing us with a commentary
about the founding of the Yeshivah in the 1930s and how after
the Six Day War, he and other like-minded souls had begun
the process of returning to these institutions and properties.
At that point, the reclaimed Yeshivah was located on the eastern
side of the street which served as a relatively amorphous
boundary between the Jewish and Muslim quarters of the Old
City. We walked along one of the major thoroughfares leading
to the Damascus Gate and Dan would stop at one gated doorway
or another to show us the Jewish properties that were on the
reclamation list and now were in the hands of Muslims. He
pointed to the niches carved in the stone which once had held
the mezzuzzot for these historic Jewish homes.
Our tour ended at the home of Nachman Kahane, the much less-famous
brother of Rabbi Meir Kahane, just a few paces off the Via
Dolorosa. We walked through his enclosed garden, went up a
stairway and into a small synagogue whose windows faced toward
the Temple Mount. There, we met other activists who gave us
a very rosey account of Ataret Cohanim's activities, filled
with stories of how the Muslim residents of the neighborhood
had welcomed them back, including an account of a elderly
Muslim who had kept the original key to one Jewish property
with the hope that he would be able to return it to its rightful
owners. This story was in every respect a counter-narrative
to the well-known Palestinian refugee narrative in which a
Palestinian has kept as his or her most sacred property the
key a home left behind in 1948. We were also treated to a
lengthy discourse by Dan himself on the return to Temple worship
which was being drawn closer by their resettlement of these
and other Jewish properties.
But there was a photograph on the wall in that
synagogue that caught my eye. (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/penncip/lustick/app5.html)
It was a very well-known photomontage, an aerial view of the
Temple Mount in which the Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock,
and everything else from the Umayyid, Abbasid, Fatimid, Mameluk,
and Ottoman periods of the city had been removed and replaced
by a reconstructed Second Temple. The Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian
pasts had been erased completely and totally. The photo came
to represent the increasing radicalization of the Israeli
extreme right. As Meir Kahane's use of the photo suggested,
there was an alien presence in prime Jewish and Israeli space.
For the settlers in the foothills of Judea and Samaria, in
the old Jewish quarter of Hebron, and the flatlands of Gaza
and its seashore, the photo expressed the complete synthesis
of religion and nationalism.
Then as now, Matti Dan and Ataret Cohanim would believe that
they have proper relations with their Palestinian neighbors,
perhaps even warm relations, although the press accounts belie
this. In almost every property "reclaimed" or purchased
the environment has been one of friction, confrontation, and
hostility. Ataret-Cohanim has expanded its operation in the
ensuing decades, and other groups like Elad, perhaps spin-offs
of Ataret Cohanim, have joined them to continue to press the
original claims. In the last months of the Shamir government,
the urban "pioneers" set their eyes on vacant property
in Keren Ha-Mufti and Sheikh Jarah, a quarter mile north of
the Old City. They attempted to purchase property in the area
of the Tomb of Shimon Ha-Tzaddik. In the 1990s they were involved
in evicting Palestinians for their homes in Ir-David, below
the southern wall of the Old City and were successful in taking
hold of a Christian hospice in the Christian quarter. And,
in each case, there was substantial resistance.
In the early days of Ataret Cohanim's effort to widen the
Jewish presence in Muslim neighborhoods inside and outside
the Old City, there was a suspicion that funds to support
the purchase of these properties was coming evangelical Christian
groups in the US and Europe. The worldviews of these evangelicals
and the urban settlers contained parallel interests - rebuilding
a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount was a key element in divine
plan for the tribulation, the rapture, and the final triumphant
return of the Christ. Several very good journalists tried
to trace these connections. Perhaps the best early account
came from Robert I. Friedman, Nadav Shragai, and most recently,
Gershon Gorenberg. It was assumed that funds were also coming
from Jewish individuals abroad, a claim that appears well-founded
in case of Dr. Moskowitz's interests in building housing at
Matti Dan's letter to Rabbi Haim Beliak is of interest at
several levels. First, there is the worldview from which he
speaks. In his opening paragraph, he denounces the efforts
to halt Moskowitz's efforts. He writes "I will suffice
by saying that like others in this hate-filled world, you
are playing a part in stopping the Mashiach [messiah]. Why
should he come if there is so much senseless hatred within
Am Yisrael [the Jewish people]." He returns to the theme
of "senseless hatred" among Jewish people in his
penultimate paragraph: "As a final word - Sinat Chinam"
(Senseless hatred) has destroyed many in our history. Some
advice - don't let it eat you up, or consume you totally.
Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself some hard
questions - Why am I really doing this? Why am I so consumed
with stopping Moskowitz? Am I being honest with myself? What
is so wrong with Jews living on the Mt. Olives, especially
if no Arab was affected, driven off
Beliak is guilty of sinat-chinam which potentially might delay
or squelch the coming of the Messiah. Of course, sinat-chinam
is one of the reasons given by the Rabbis of the Babylonian
Talmud for the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the
Romans in 70 C.E. Sinat Chinam is also read back into the
destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587/86 B.C.E.
and it was also used to account for why the Romans ultimately
defeated the rebellion of Shimon Bar Kokhba in 135 C.E. Indeed,
if it were not for this hatred within the Jewish community
then there would have been no defeat by any enemy, and by
implication in Matti Dan, Jerusalem would be really united
and we would know that the Messiah is one his way if Rabbis
and others would not have committed this transgression of
hating other Jews.
But Dan's recourse to the historical trope of sinat chinam
suggests something else which I believe is incompatible with
politics on the ground and any solution for the problem of
Jerusalem. Of course, Dan will immediately say there is no
Jerusalem problem except for us haters of other Jews who are
actualizing their deep love between "Am and Eretz Yisrael."
Sinat chinam is also the boundary line dividing true Jews
from false Jews. We cannot love the land of Israel if we are
unable to see the maximalist "rare and honest passion
to build Jerusalem." We cannot feel the deep connection
to the land and the city. In short, we may belong to kelal-yisrael
[the community of the Jewish people] by the fact of our births,
but we are really inauthentic Jews because we would find something
deeply troubling in building Jewish residences in Ras al-Amud
or Ma'aleh Ha-Zeitim.
Ehud Sprinzak, one of Israel's greatest scholars of the politics
of extremism in Israel and elsewhere, believed that it was
always important to locate religious extremists in their thought-world.
Not all were the same and hence he sought to describe Meir
Kahane's Kach party as "catastrophic messianism."
Matti Dan and Ataret-Cohanim represent a different religious
worldview which might be most accurately described as a modern
Jewish apocalypticism. We might think that "apocalypticism"
always involves a great conflagration at the end of time.
Many apocalypses do have this, but this does not distinguish
them from messianism or millenarianism. What distinguishes
ancient or modern apocalypticists from others burning for
the end times is that they believe a revelation has been given,
a sign, a document, or something else. But only a few can
read and understand it properly. They are the real community,
a kind of avant garde which must drag the rest of the community
kicking and screaming toward what they believe the one and
only goal of history. In effect we see that apocalyptic spirit
in the words of Dan. Only he and Ataret-Cohanim understand
history correctly. Here, it is history which is the revelation,
the sign, the book which they and only they have the key to.
For Dan and Ataret-Cohanim, the critical event was the Six
Day War and the liberation of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.
Only they understand the real meaning of the event and they
will realize their meaning for all of us. Apocalypticism and
politics rarely make good bedfellows, especially in modern,
Second, Dan suggests that the property upon which Moskowitz
has built his apartment building is Jewish property going
back to the 19th century. He offers a curious sentence about
the property: "It was deemed to be an extension of Jewish
Cemetery, but both Turkish and later British authorities refused
the licence." What does it mean to say that both the
Turks and the British refused the licence? Answering that
question is not essential however. Whether it is Jewish property
or no is really not the question. The former mayor of Jerusalem,
Teddy Kollek, believed that Jerusalem could only be managed
by understanding its urban space much like a mosaic made up
of separate neighborhoods. The ethos of Ataret Kohanim and
Dan speak from another perspective. They do not recognize
the mosaic neighborhoods, especially when those neighborhoods
are Palestinian. Here, they take recourse to an American urban
and political principle - a Jew should be able to live anywhere
he or she might want in their city. It is after all only their
city. It is not a Palestinian city. The rights of Palestinians
do not matter. The only principle worth speaking of is property
rights. What of the Palestinians who left their homes in neighborhoods
like Talbieh in 1948? If property rights are the only rights,
then shouldn't those Palestinians be allowed to purchase or
reclaim their homes?
Ras al-Amud or Ma'ale Ha-Zeitim is quite a walk from the
Old City, but it is still prime real estate in Jerusalem's
apocalyptic topography. When I visited Ras al-Amud early in
the development of the site for Jewish apartment dwellers
I found it to be a neighborhood dominated by the "Democratic
Front for the Liberation of Palestine." Everywhere their
graffiti were on the walls. They too are territorial maximalists
like Dan and Ataret-Cohanim. This is not a neighborhood which
would welcome Jews into its streets, and hence that massive
police station will certainly be called upon to protect the
first new Jewish residents.
* * *
by Thomas H. Nelson. Mr. Nelson, who practices law in
Portland, Oregon, was previously a professor of law.
You have sought my comment about recent correspondence between
yourself and Matti Dan, the Director of Ateret Cohanim ("Crown
of Priests"), a group of Israeli settlers committed for
religious reasons to reclaiming specific lands in the occupied
territories of the West Bank and Gaza as a means of insuring
for the foreseeable future that Israel will retain control
over all of what they refer to as "biblical eretz Yisrael."
As will soon be clear, I disagree with Mr. Dan on many points.
But every word of this memorandum is written for the love
of Israel, whose increasing isolation even from its oldest
and staunchest allies, appears to me to place in grave peril
a country and a society I have loved for decades.
Referring to Matti Dan's letter of April 1, 2003, I will
focus my comments on two inter-relating realities in this
correspondence: (1) the principal source of the funding for
the Jerusalem developments is in a gambling enterprise in
Hawaiian Gardens, and (2) the relationship between the new
development at Ras al-Amoud and the larger context of the
search for a lasting solution to the conflict between Israel
I conclude in Part I that the context of Hawaiian Gardens
exposes the victimization of the economically vulnerable.
I conclude in Part II that the expansion of Israeli settlements
in East Jerusalem reveals a pattern of territorial expansion
that poses grave risks to mercy, justice and lasting peace
in the region.
I. The Source of the Moskowitz
Exploitation of Immigrants through Gambling Operations of
Both the morality and legality of the source of the funding
of the Moskowitz enterprise is the pockets of the poor. The
deepest moral flaw of Hawaiian Gardens is that it reverses
the Robin Hood legend. Moskowitz has created a redistributive
scheme based on a form of "robbing from the poor."
But has Dr. Moskowitz broken any laws of the United States?
According to the documents published on www.stopmoskowitz.org
website, significant portions of the earnings from the bingo
parlor that Moskowitz operates in Hawaiian Gardens have flowed
to private, for-profit businesses, including one in which
Moskowitz has a direct financial interest. But if there were
sufficient proof of private inurement in violation of
§501(c)(3) of the [federal tax] code, the government
could revoke the exempt status of Dr. Moskowitz's not-for-profit
Or has Dr. Moskowitz broken any laws of the State of California?
For years Moskowitz has exercised powerful control of the
elected officials on the City Council of Hawaiian Gardens.
It is undisputed, however, that the same group of officials
- designating themselves as the "Hawaiian Gardens Redevelopment
Agency" - has extended public funds for the construction
of a gambling casino to Dr. Moskowitz, in apparent violation
of California Health and Safety Code, §33426.5 (c) (forbidding
direct use of public redevelopment funds for gambling operations).
II. The Target of Moskowitz
Funding of Israeli Settlements in Territory under Military
Second, there is the deeply contentious issue about the location
of the Ras Al-Amoud development block in a portion of East
Jerusalem that has been regarded as Palestinian.
I turn now to the secular issue of whether settlement activity
in general in territory that is under military occupation
is legitimate under international law. The applicable norm
is found in Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
"The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts
of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
In the meantime, it remains the case that every other nation
in the world except Israel shares the view that all of the
provisions on international humanitarian law in the Fourth
Geneva Convention are in fact part of the legal patrimony
of the world, and that this convention applies in full force
to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The leading statement on the subject, U.N. Security Council
Resolution 446, was adopted on 22 March 1979 by a vote of
13-0. [It concluded that] the West Bank and Gaza are occupied
territories within the meaning of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Even if the policy of settlement activity were deemed legal
under international law, a view adopted by no country except
Israel, that would not mean that the policy is prudent or
wise. I turn therefore from the issue of the legality of the
settlements in the occupied territories to the moral question
of whether the policy of ongoing settlement activity by the
Israeli Government is prudent or wise.