Thursday, February 12, 2015

Yeshiva students suspected of tearing down roof of century-old Jerusalem building 

Police are investigating whether yeshiva students in Jerusalem tore down the roof of a century-old building earmarked for preservation last week, after a city inspector said he saw the students attempting to take the building apart.

Sources familiar with the situation said the yeshiva students targeted the ancient structure because their Hasidic institution, Yeshivat Tiferet Yisrael on Malkhei Yisrael Street, commonly known as the Ruzhyn yeshiva, wants to submit a construction plan for the area. Yeshiva officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We view the vandalism gravely and with concern," said Yitzhak Shwiki, director of the Jerusalem district of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites. "It's a declared historic monument and we hope the police will deal harshly with the perpetrators. We also asked the municipality to issue an order banning construction on the site for at least 10 years to protect historic buildings."

A week ago a municipal inspector from the city's preservation committee arrived at the Ruzhin yeshiva after receiving an anonymous call. The inspector photographed yeshiva students attempting to take apart a 100-year-old building.

Preservation inspectors said many people were involved in the destruction, and used iron rods and other tools to take apart the roof. The inspector said the men taking the building apart chased him off the site and threw water glasses and a stone at him. The preservation committee filed a police complaint this week.

The yeshiva heads said the building collapsed due to the snow that fell in the city about a month ago. But city and preservation officials dismissed the claim, saying the roof was in quite a good condition until it was deliberately demolished.

"It was worn but intact. It was simply taken apart," said architect Gil Gordon, who has researched and studied the compound.

The building was built in 1909 near the Schneller Orphanage, built by German missionary Johann Ludwig Schneller, and housed the orphanage staff.

Gordon said the building was one of three similar structures modeled after farmers' homes in Germany. Each building had a name: Galil, Yehuda and Shomron.

The building that was partially destroyed, probably Yehuda, was the last of the three to have survived. It was slated for preservation and listed as a historic monument, which means it could not legally be torn down or have its character changed.

The preservation committee decided Tuesday it would take control of the building if the owners fail to renovate it.

The municipality said the building that had been slated for preservation "was partially destroyed without a demolition permit," adding: "The city has issued an order to stop the work on the site immediately and opened an investigation against the suspects. The city is examining ways of imposing harsher penalties and sanctions in this serious incident."

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