Yad Le'Achim is going to court to halt construction of a congregational center for a growing church in southern Israel.

In Be'er Sheba's district court, Yad Le'Achim has filed an indictment alleging that Be'er Tovia city officials improperly issued a permit to the Grace and Truth Christian Congregation to build a church in a light industrial zone.

The court has allowed the construction to continue pending its ruling. After Yad Le'Achim started court action, Be'er Tovia officials attempted to revoke the permit, charging that the church had misled them.

The city officials have since withdrawn the charges, saying the church was honest, and that its license and plan meet zoning requirements.

The Knesset's Internal Affairs Committee has indefinitely postponed a meeting to discuss the church's construction program. Grace and Truth pastor Baruch Maoz had told the committee such a meeting would be inappropriate.

"We find it inconceivable that democratic Israel will not respect the right of assembly of a growing number of its populace," Maoz says. "The indictment has no legal grounds."

Because of the municipality's action, Maoz says, it is likely that the court will refuse to hear the case. Still, the church is planning for a possible appeal from Yad Le'Achim. If the building permit is invalidated, the church's options may include stopping construction, selling its property, or using it only for nonreligious purposes.

Yad Le'Achim has opposed other Christian activity in the past. In 1997, it advocated legislation to outlaw proselytism. But the legislation was defeated.

Grace and Truth's 400 members have outgrown rented quarters in nearby Rishon LeTsion. Be'er Tovia is south of Gedera and inland from the coastal city of Ashdod. The church, an independent Reformed congregation, is building a new conference center, offices, and a swimming pool. Church leaders hope to dedicate the facility by next July. Maoz says areas in Israel that are zoned for synagogues and other buildings are not made available to churches, especially if Israeli Jews are members.

Wes Taber, director of AMF International (formerly American Messianic Fellowship), says the court's actions have broad implications for churches in Israel. "Should [Yad Le'Achim] succeed," Taber says, "it will likely only encourage other municipalities to follow suit" and reject building permits for churches.

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Previous Christianity Today articles on Israel include:

Activists well acquainted with terror | "Jerusalem Women Speak" tour gains relevance for audience members struggling with new fears. (Sept. 27, 2001)
Palestine's Christians Persist Despite Pressures | With escalating violence in Israel, ministries face a "sad and scary" situation. (Sept. 19, 2001)
Sleepless and 'Terrified', Orphans, Staff Dare to Hope Truce Will Hold | After three days of fighting in Beit Jala, the Israeli army withdraws but warns it may return. (Sept. 5, 2001)
Despite Israeli Objections, Irineos Is New Greek Orthodox Patriarch | Protesting under a sixth century law, Israeli objections overturned by supreme court. (Aug. 23, 2001)
Amid Fears for Future, Jerusalem's Churches Embark On Prayers for Peace | Week of prayer launched with services held in various congregations. (Aug. 22, 2001)
Strengthen Christian Presence In The Holy Land, Carey Pleads | Middle-East leaders asked to help tone down violence that has killed 650 in 10 months. (Aug. 2, 2001)
Greek Orthodox Priest Falls Victim to Middle East Conflict | Monks worry they may appear as threats to each warring side. (June 21, 2001)

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