KEEPING THE PEACE: Head of Israel Geophysics Ariehas Kleinas (above), who is in Lithuania to make sure that the excavations are going well, has had to deal with increasing tensions between visiting religous leaders and local media.
VILNIUS - The row over the plans to build luxury apartments at the Jewish Snipiskes cemetery got physical this week as police investigate allegations that a rabbi assaulted a news photographer at the site on July 24.
The rabbi reportedly knocked the photographer down, damaging his camera, after the photographer crossed a "stop line" at the edge of a dig at the Jewish cemetery in Snipiskes. An apartment building is thought to cover part of the burial grounds. Developers plan to build more apartments on the site. The Jewish community have condemned the plans as a desecration.
The cameraman's supervisor, News Bridgepix Producer Liutauras Strimaitis, told The Baltic Times that many journalists and cameramen had been working beyond the stop line the day before. Jewish officials did not dispute this.
The rabbi had left by the time police arrived. According to Simonas Gurevicius, chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the rabbi flew back to England after the incident but is expected to return for further work on the cemetery. Gurevicius said the rabbi was blindsided by the cameramen as he exited a dig tent and acted instinctively.
Strimaitis told The Baltic Times the rabbi kicked the photographer and punched him in the face. Conclusions of a medical analysis showing bruises on the cameraman's face have been given to the police, he said. The cameraman has been on leave since the incident and was unavailable for comment.
Strimaitis said his agency is talking to lawyers and plans to take the matter to the Prosecutor General's office, citing the impediment of media work in Lithuania. The agency also requests that the rabbi be summoned for questioning.
Strimaitis said the photographer had accidentally "crossed some stop line that has no legal powers whatsoever. The Jews speak about some accreditations, but we are a media company and do not need any accreditation to be in the Lithuanian territory," Strimaitis said.
Gurevicius said the cameraman was not properly identified as a journalist, and that by crossing the stop line he had violated the photographer's constitutional right to his image. While condemning the physical reaction of the attacks on the cameraman, Gurevicius also said the act of "pushing a camera in a person's face without his consent is a major violation."
"I believe that [the rabbi] walked out of the tent and responded instinctively," Gurevicius said. "They crossed the stop line and put the camera in his face and he was afraid, he was scared," Gurevicius said.
The chairman of the Lithuanian Journalists' Union, Dainius Radzevicius, rubbished what he saw as an attempt to excuse the assault. "I see [the rabbi's actions] as wrong. â€¦ An attack against a journalist is an attack against society. In such situation, you do not make excuses 's you apologize, make compensation and improve," Radzevicius said.
Strimaitis agreed, adding that the incident should not be repeated. "We could buy two or three cameras to replace the broken one, but this isn't the problem. He attacked my photographer," he said.
Gurevicius said this incident was regrettable and achieved nothing except slowing down the process of investigating the site to see where bodies may lie. He hopes the investigation will continue smoothly.
Archeologists started the dig in the central suburb of Vilnius on July 23. The dig will supplement the material gathered by Israeli geophysicists to determine precisely where the boundary of the cemetery is and whether a luxurious apartment building is now covering part of it.
The dig is being carried out by Lithuanian archeologists under the supervision of rabbis delegated from the Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and Israeli geophysicists who finished surveying the territory with their instruments a month ago.
With LGC participation, the Israeli company Geotec conducted a geophysical survey on the territory of the Jewish cemetery in early July. The Lithuanian government paid for the survey, which cost around 350,000 litas (101,450 euros).
Geotec, the company in charge of the exploration, is expected to produce its findings on the boundaries of the Jewish cemetery by mid-August.