Brigham Young University has signed a renewable 49-year lease and occupancy agreement for its Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, culminating nearly a decade of struggle and uncertainty surrounding the project.
The lease was signed Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. Israel time in the office of Yehuda Ziv, district officer of the Jerusalem Lands Authority. It was in the same office four years ago that BYU and Israeli government officials signed the development lease allowing construction of the BYU Jerusalem Center.A slightly revised lease agreement was approved last week by the Israeli Cabinet. The revisions strengthened the language prohibiting BYU students, faculty and staff associated with the Jerusalem Center from proselyting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors the private university.
President Howard W. Hunter, acting president of the LDS Council of the Twelve and a member of the BYU board of trustees, signed the lease. He also signed an additional document on behalf of the LDS Church, recomitting the church's promise to not actively proselyte in Israel.
The second document is similar to documents signed by the LDS Church when it gains entrance to foreign nations where missionary work is prohibited.
BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland, who was in Israel for the signing of the lease, was ecstatic about realizing what is considered as the last major obstacle for the Jerusalem Center, said Paul Richards, BYU director of public communication.
"He said he feels like a great load has been lifted from the shoulders of BYU," said Richards, who talked with Holland by phone Wednesday after the signing. "(Holland said) it's a great relief after eight years of constant turmoil, effort and anxiety."
The Israeli cabinet approval May 8 of the lease agreement was on an 11-4 vote, with members of the ultraconservative Jewish sects opposing, as expected.
Since the outset of the project, BYU officials have promised that the center would not be used for proselyting purposes and that individuals will be asked to not participate in any activities that might be viewed as proselyting.
The addendum also provides for a five-member oversight committee - composed of representatives of the attorney general's office, the cabinet, the Jerusalem mayor's office, and the BYU Jerusalem Center - that will review any planned public event associated with the center as well as investigate claims of proselyting by BYU students, faculty or staff.
However, the committee will not have any jurisdiction over the operations or educational programs of the center, Richards said.
After being approved by the cabinet, the lease agreement was reviewed first by the Israeli attorney general and then by BYU legal counsel.
The BYU Jerusalem Center long has been a target of criticism from outspoken leaders of ultraconservative Jewish sects, who for several years have expressed fears centering on the proselyting issue. Most of the much-publicized demonstrations occurred in 1985 and 1986.
Since then, the center has enjoyed "a welcomed quiet season," Richards said. The occasional opposition mentioned in the Israeli media "is insignificant to what we went through in 1985 and 1986."
Work on the center has not been hampered by the ongoing skirmishes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the area. However, the con-flicts have restricted some of the planned field trips to outlying sites.
Located on government-controlled land, the $20 million center is used by BYU for its Study Abroad and Travel Study programs. Although minor touch-up construction continues at the facility, the center actually was completed last year.
Students were moved into the partially completed facility in March 1987, with occupancy allowed through a provisional construction agreement.
The lease agreement does include financial arrangements for the lease of the government-controlled property, with is occupied territory in the West Bank area of east Jerusalem. However, financial estimates were not disclosed.
Dedication ceremonies for the BYU Jerusalem Center have yet to be scheduled.