Monday, December 14, 2009

Good Neighbors

I have no words of defense, exoneration or even merely words of explanation which then segue in a back-handed sort of way into justification, for the recent attack on a mosque in Yasuf. Islamists routinely attack mosques and massacre worshipers. Palestinian terrorists regularly use houses of worship, be it the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem or mosques in Gaza, as places to hole up in or store weapons. Civilized people don't see houses of worship as military targets unless they really are, and they never desecrate them with the intent to insult. If they do, it's proof they've ceased to be civilized.

No "but"s.

That doesn't mean the responses to such a despicable attack can't be educative.

A delegation of Jewish religious leaders and activists, including some from West Bank settlements, tried to reach the village to express their abhorrence of the attack. But the Israeli Army prevented the group from entering Yasuf for security reasons as enraged villagers proclaimed that the visitors would not be welcome. “The people will not allow it,” said Wasfi Hassan, a local farmer. “It is like killing a man, then going to his funeral.”

No, actually it isn't like that at all. First, because no-one was killed or even injured. Second, because it wasn't the perpetrators who wished to come to Yasuf with new copies of the Koran, it was other Jews, some settlers, some not. The determination to see all Israeli Jews as if they were criminal thugs may be satisfying, but it's neither factually true nor remotely helpful to moving forward.

Mr. Abbushi rejected the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could turn into a religious struggle. “It is a national conflict. We want an independent state, without settlers,” he said. But Palestinian schoolchildren brought to demonstrate in Yasuf on Sunday shouted, “Khaibar, Khaibar ya Yahud,” evoking a legendary battle between the Prophet Muhammad and the Jews of the Khaibar oasis, who were forced to surrender.

So who's got it right? The PA governor speaking to the foreign press and telling them what they wish to hear, or the locals, perhaps teachers, priming the school children on what to chant? Even if it's the governor, why does an independent state have to be free of Jews?

In Yasuf, villagers recounted years of problems with settlers in the area, blaming them for a range of ills, including what they said was the poisoning of a spring and the theft of sheep.
Really? The settlers poisoned the spring? How did they manage to do that, pray tell? Given the geological structure of the West Bank, which determines how local springs work, I'll go out on a branch and say such an action cannot be done. Or rather, it probably could, but it would require a large-scale, sustained, industrial-scope effort. This never happened, not at Yasuf and not anywhere else in the area. Sounds to me more like the result of a sustained and society-wide policy by the Palestinians to poison their own minds and those of their children, many of whom have in the meantime grown to become parents, educators, and retired frail and elderly great-grandparents.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to change Israel’s map of national priority areas to include several isolated West Bank settlements, along with large areas populated by Jews and Arabs in the country’s north and south. The plan has been sharply criticized by the Israeli left because of the inclusion of the settlements, which will now be entitled to additional government financing. Many Israelis saw the adjusted map as an attempt by the government to appease the settlers, who are furious about the building halt.

Looks to me more like standard if unseemly politics. The government is about to disburse large sums of money to lots of people, including many Arab Israelis, and they're throwing a sop also to a troublesome constituent. Not nice, but no different from any other democratically elected politicians.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement that the new map “serves as a blueprint for future settlement expansion.”He continued: “It reveals the extent to which Israel’s ‘settlement moratorium’ is a sham.”

Really, Mr. Erekat? Try us. Go on, call our bluff. Make us a serious offer and see what we do. Or better, simply agree to return to the negotiating table you fled from on September 16th 2008, when yet another Israeli offer to disband most of the settlements was on the table, and see what you can achieve. Come on, face us with a challenge, instead of moaning about how horrific we are. That's what running a country is all about: dealing with reality, not with wishful dreams.

Update: Chief Rabbi Yonah Metsger came to the village to express his solidarity. He was accompanied by the PA governor and dozens of PA body-guards, but the villagers wouldn't let him into the desecrated mosque. Interestingly, he told the villagers that the Jewish memory of the Holocaust "begins with the desecration of synagogues", one reason why such a desecration is such an outrage to Jews. This is an interesting anecdote for those of Israel's many enemies who insist the Holocaust is routinely instrumentalized to justify anti-Palestinian actions.


Victor said...

I just want to point out that Palestinians have not respected Jewish places of worship in the modern period, and care nothing for Jewish sensitivity towards ancient religious sites, much less modern shuls.

Joseph's tomb vandalized

Throwing garbage on Jewish places of worship is somewhat of a tradition for Arabs. Perhaps someone could provide a source, but I seem to remember that the Temple Mount was turned into a garbage dump for several centuries after the Romans liquidated Jerusalem.

There is a story that a king or prince from another land came and was horrified by what he saw. He threw coins at the garbage and the people cleaned it up to find the money.

Zach said...

This is a very interesting article, Mr. Locowizk. Especially the reaction of the villagers, and how they apparently see all Israelis (or Jews?) as the same.

Anonymous said...

I hate playing the game of "I know better", but having dated a Palestinian for 4 years... the reason those villagers have no qualms about blaming all Jews for the mosque torching is that this is exactly what THEY would do if the situation was reversed. In a crude way of saying it, they don't see why Jews would not torch their mosques. This is how Semitic people fight wars. It's what the Arabs did to every Jewish synagogue in the West Bank and Gaza after 1948 (not to mention Gaza 2005), without exception. The fact that the Jews don't do this makes them even more suspicious, not less, because they assume the Jews are planning something even worse. The Power-Pride dynamic of Semitic cultures is so removed from the Western experience that it's difficult to explain.

Most of the fellahin (Palestinian farmers) are not deep, introspective thinkers. They are tribal people who see things in simple terms. They don't think of Jews as individuals. They don't see individuals, only communities. If one Jew does something, it's obvious that all Jews would support it.

The concept of blood can help to explain the difference in thinking. To Palestinians, if a member of one clan is murdered, his clan can carry out retribution against any other member of the opposite clan, even halfway across the world. They will kill a perfectly innocent person to satisfy the spilled blood, because individuals don't matter - they're a collective. This is not Islamic law, by the way, it is purely tribal, and Palestinians have some of the strongest tribal traditions among any Arabs.

Rabbi Metsger thinks he made a big gesture by coming. To the Palestinians in the village, though, it is a supreme insult. Not only did you burn down our mosque, now you have the gall to come here and laugh at us and claim you didn't do it. This is exactly how they see it. If he wanted to calm them down, he should have admitted that he (the Jewish collective) burned down the mosque, and asked which Jewish synagogue they want to destroy in retribution. Or, at least hand over the perpetrator, who would be murdered by the villagers in a grizzly way. This reciprocity is how tribal law works.

Are there educated Palestinians or even tribal elders who know better? Yes. But the majority of people on the ground are not trained in analytic thinking. They don't think of themselves in third person and rotate in their mind the variables in a situation to understand how the Jews think. They think of themselves as a collective entity, and they assume everyone else does as well.

Anonymous said...

In Gaza 2005 no Palestinian harmed any synagogues. We Israelis did it all to ourselves.

I only recently learned that the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem was destroyed in 1948 before the fighting had ended, and that by current Israeli standards it was definitely a legitimate military target, as Jewish snipers were shooting from the upper floor. This is not what I was taught in my Zionist youth group.