The Vice President of the Jerusalem District Court, Justice Carmi Musak handed down a verdict that the Ramban’s Cave near Kever Shimon HaTzaddik in Yerushalayim belongs to the Muslim Waqf Authority and he prohibits Jews from entering to the site.
The Waqf filed suit in 2000, stating the cave belongs to them but the National Authority for Holy Sites explained to the court that when the Ramban visited the area, it was known he would dwell in the cave and as such, it has become holy and significant to Am Yisrael. The authority brought historical documents showing the Ramban used the cave when he was in Yerushalayim in 1267, when he lived, learned and davened in the cave, giving the status of a Holy Site under Israeli law, stating that as a result, the court does not have jurisdiction but the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Religious Affairs. Minister Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) declared the cave a holy site, placing it in the category of other religious sites under his ministry’s control to preserve it for future generations.
The Waqf took the case to the High Court of Justice and then President Justice Prof. Aaron Barak issued a temporary injunction freezing the minister’s ‘holy site’ designation, instructing Cohen to respond as to why he should not cancel his decision to designate the cave a Jewish holy site.
Cohen’s replacement, Minister Dr. Yossi Beilin appointed a committee to investigate the matter. The committee submitted its findings in 2003, stating the cave is indeed a site holy to the Jewish People with the provision that is ‘holy designation’ is “low” and therefore the court may rule on the matter.
The next minister, Asher Ochana of Shas canceled the designation of his predecessor Dr. Beilin. He stated the cave is indeed a holy site to the Jewish People, and therefore, his ministry has jurisdiction and he announced the cave is open to Jewish visitors.
Rabbi Moshe Tzinurat and the gabbai and askan of Kever Shimon HaTzaddik R’ Moshe Deutsch gave testimony that people regularly davened in the cave until recently, but due to security consideration surrounding the escalation in Arab attacks, the minyanim were no longer held on a regular basis.
The Waqf, unyielding in its battle to gain control of the site, brought testimony from Police Commander Kamel Mansur, who told the court the cave was not on his list of holy sites and as far as police are aware, Jews do not daven in the cave. The court ruled the Arab policeman was indeed a ‘neutral witness’ who “does not have a hand in the dispute,” declaring his testimony acceptable. In addition, the court pointed out that other religions have not made claims to the cave and therefore, the cave falls under the authority of the Waqf and Jews are prohibited from entering.
The court also ordered the National Authority for Holy Sites to pay the Waqf NIS 10,000 in legal fees.
In a related matter, following the eviction of a number of Arab families who were illegally occupying buildings in the area of Kever Shimon HaTzaddik, the situation there is increasingly difficult and dangerous for visitors, who are regularly targeted by Arabs in rock attacks, accosted on their way to and from the site and there have even been attempted stabbing attacks.
(Yechiel Spira – YWN Israel)