I am absolutely disgusted with the racist coverage of the synagogue burnings in Gaza. Racist, because if it were Jews burning Mosques or Churches, it would make front page news—or at least merit its own article. Instead, the New York Times, in a longer piece about the IDF’s complete withdrawal from Gaza includes only a few, passing remarks about the destruction of holy sites.
Even worse is the way the PA and other Palestinian officials have defended the destruction. Unlike Israel, which passed the Protection of Holy Sites Law in 1967 immediately following the conquest of land occupied by Jordan and Egypt at the time, that guaranteed that
The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.
Instead, Palestinian president Mahmud Abas denies the synagogues even existed. Seriously. According to what I’m assuming has become the official line of the PA, “Israel left behind some empty buildings which that are likely to collapse. All the public buildings they left are in danger of collapsing.”
But they did exist. And even if they existed for only a short while, they meant something serious to tbose people who prayed there for nearly forty years. (The modern state of Syria possessed the Golan Heights for less time, and yet it claims that land as its own). And yes, I do understand that they were built while Gaza was occupied–and I do think that the occupation was wrong. But many Mosques throughout Israel were built during the occupation by Muslim forces, as were Churches built when the Christians occupied certain areas. And these are protected. The point being that the contemporary nature of the structures should not be an issue. The holiness and symbolic meaning of the entire land to all three faiths is the issue, and mutually free access of all religions should be defended by all.
Hamas understands this–or rather, they understand that in destroying the synagogues they are making a larger statement regarding their intentions for Palestine and Jewish access as a whole. According to Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, the decision was a historically based one: “We won’t allow any Wailing Walls on our blessed land,” he said. No, no walls. No buildings. No respect for the fact that Jews too might find the land holy. What would happen if Israel employed that same logic and held itself to the enlightened standard of the leaders of the Palestinian body politic? Hey, it’ll be one way to end intifada’t al-Aksa. I wonder what the international community would say about that. Would the UK attempt to detain the burners of the synagogues for “hate crimes”?
As a related aside, I wonder if there is some sort of theological underpinning to the whole affair, one that makes the burning somehow justified in the eyes of the post-Jewish world. Islam, like Christianity a daughter faith of Judaism, could be seen as justified in destroying its mother’s home in a perverse replay of religious history. Hell, if you supercede the teachings, why not supercede the sites?
I very much hope the Israeli government prevents any damage to Mosques, and I strongly commend Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who said he would “consider ostracizing any Jew that damages mosques in retaliation.” We should certainly not do unto others what they do to us–but rather do unto others what we would hope they would do unto us. And I hope very, very much that the moderate Palestinians whom I know do exist out there will recognize the evil of their brethren’s deeds and work to defend the rights of all traditions to respect and honor.
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