OUR LADY OF SORROW
(A collection of spiritual essays by Israel Shamir)
Sit comfortably, put your glass down. Check your response: What statement would annoy you most: a. your mother is a whore, b. Christ never existed and Resurrection is a myth, c. Jews have too much power in the US.
If you consider 'C', youhave a problem. Even worse, you are a part of the problem. For a long while, it was the problem of Palestine, but since then, the Second Intifada, a confrontation of Native Palestinians with the Jewish state grew into the World War Three. Many developments in politics, art, culture, and religion – not only the war in the Holy Land and in the Middle East, but decline of Christianity, rise of the Right, advent of Globalisation are parts of the same problem.
The war in Palestine can be terminated today by granting full equality of its Jewish and non-Jewish residents. Somehow this solution is not even discussed. The author would love to make a celebratory presentation of wonderful achievements of Jews, if it would cause them to embrace their Palestinian neighbours. However, this way was tried and failed spectacularly. In the author’s eyes, the Jewish hubris is the main obstacle to the solution, and that is why the se essays are deconstructing Jewishness, trying to undermine all possible reasons for the hubris. This could be painful reading for his Jewish brothers and sisters intoxicated with success and trapped by mantra of Jewish martyrdom. But the Jewish exclusiveness has to be exorcised, in order to integrate Jews into the family of nations.
Hubris was considered the worst of sins by the ancient Greeks, and it always lead to fateful consequences. An example of hubris is furnished by a prominent modern Jewish scholar and editor of Talmud, Rabbi Adin Steinzaltz, who described Christianity as ‘simplified Judaism, adapted to the childish minds of Gentiles’. Smugness of Jewish positive assessment of their contribution to mankind calls for a cold shower, provided by a grandson of a Rabbi, Karl Marx, who wrote: ‘Christianity is the sublime Judaist thought, while Judaism is a sordid utilitarian application of Christianity’. The author prefers the ruling of Rabbi Marx, as it offers a way to deconstruct the Jewish state and to integrate the descendents of Jews in their new homeland and elsewhere.
It is a story of love as well. I (let’s leave this neutral ‘author’ aside) am deeply in love
with the Holy Land, its meagre streams and olive trees, and with its people, the native and
adoptive Palestinians. This land is still able to connect Man and Spirit by virtue of its ancient shrines and unique nature. The ongoing destruction of the Holy Land would create a point of no return for mankind and signify Man’s total enslavement by the forces of domination. By saving the Holy Land, we shall save the world.
Part One. In Palestine
Our Lady of Sorrow
[This was written after Israeli invasion of Bethlehem, in March 2002].
In the Upper church of Annunciation in Nazareth, there is a striking collection of images, the homage of artists to Mary: in a setting of blue-and- golden flowers, a dainty Virgin in a colourful kimono holds her child in ceremonial Japanese royal robes; a naïve Gothic face of Madonna, transferred from French Cluniac illuminations ; a Chinese Queen of Heaven carved of precious wood by Formosa devotees; a richly inlaid Cuban statue of Virgen del Cobre; a Polish Black Madonna; a tender face of the Byzantine Mother of God, and a modernist, steely Madonna from the United States all look from the walls of the church and unite us in one human family. There is hardly an image in the world as universal and poignant as that of the Virgin and the Child.
Wherever you go, from Santiago de Compostella in the far west of Spain to the golden domes of Russia, from frozen Uppsala in Sweden to Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, you will find this adorable face. The best artists depicted her compassionate features, her love for her child and her sorrow. Botticelli painted her with a pomegranate and among the Kings of the East; Michelangelo and Rafael, Cimabue and Titian, van der Weyden and Fra Filippo Lippi were inspired by her image. This unique mix of a young girl and mother, of vulnerability and protection, of admiration and love, formed the spiritual and inspirational base of our civilisation.
She appeared to a Mexican peasant, and her flower-covered image arrested the strife and united Native Americans and Spaniards in one nation. She gave her rosary to Saint Dominic and a letter to Portuguese kids in Fatima. Prophet Muhammad saved and cherished her icon found in the Mecca shrine, writes Maxim Rodinson. She appeared to a wealthy Jewish banker Alphonse Ratisbonne, and he took orders and built the convent of the Sisters of Zion in En Karim. A Palestinian Muslim in a refugee camp of Lebanon preserved the image he took from his native Galilee, tells Elias Khoury in his novel Bab Al-Shams (recently translated into Hebrew by Moshe Hakham and edited by Anton Shammas). Syrian astronauts asked for her protection in the shrine of Seidnaya before the ir flight on the Soviet space shuttle1.
In medieval legends, the Jews were often perceived as enemies of the Virgin. The Talmud refers to her in most blasphemous and hostile way. A certain column-stump on Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa marks the place of a legendary attack of Jews on her person, while in Antioch in 592, Jews were found despoiling her image. These are old tales. And now some new facts. This week in Bethlehem, a Jew shelled the Virgin. A Jewish soldier in the formidable tank
Merkava-3, constructed according to US technology at US taxpayer’s expense fired a shell from a distance of fifty yards at the statue of the Madonna a-top theHoly Family church in the Nativity town.
The Virgin lost an arm, and her pretty face was disfigured. She became one of a hundred Palestinian women shot by the Jews in the present outburst of war. This seemingly unnecessary act of vandalism could not have been an accidental shot. No terrorist hid behind her gentle figure on the pinnacle of the hospital church. At fifty yards, you make no mistake. It could have been orders; it could have been a spontaneous expression of feelings by a Jewish fanatic. Our world rewinds full speed back into the Dark Ages, and as Israel rekindled traditional Jewish hostile rejection of Christianity, it can not be excluded.
Whatever it was meant to be, that shrapnel-shot became the most recent check of the mind-control system: will this sacrilege become widely known? And will it stir the hearts of Christendom? It remained unknown, for Christendom did not respond to the siege of the Nativity as much as Muslims did at the Jewish fundamentalists’ sacrilege at Haram a-Sharif. The doubly-negative result of the check probably confirmed the greatest hopes of its initiators. The world mass media, from New York to Moscow via Paris and London, has been secured in the grip of philosemites; not a squeak gets out unless authorised. The current Israeli invasion of Ramallah and Bethlehem was covered under the heading ‘Sharon looks for peace’. The UN resolution equalized the aggressors and their victims, sotto voce. The Western mainstream media dropped a blanket of silence on the cries from the Holy Land. Alexander Cockburn writes this week:
“It’s supposedly the third rail in jour nalism even to have a discussion of how much Jews control the media. Jude Wanniski remarked last week in his daily "Memo on the Margin" in his Web newsletter Supply Side Investor that it was certainly true to say that the Jews control discussion of Israel in the media here”2.
Indeed, the story was reported by Reuters and this dreadful picture was taken by an AP photographer. It was available to the world media. Still, no important newspaper or magazine printed it. Instead, they published stories of Christia n anti-Semitism.
The conscience of the West suffers a mirror vision of the Middle East. Terrorist actions have been perpetrated by Jews against Palestinians, but the very name ‘Palestinians’ came to epitomise terrorism. Palestinians are facing holocaust; Jewish soldiers are printing numbers on their foreheads and forearms, separating men from women and send ing them into concentration camps, but Jewish holocaust- memorials spread like mushrooms. Israel and the US disregard the international law, but their adversaries are branded ‘rogue nations’ 3. While Palestinian towns are invaded by Israeli tanks, the Wall Street Journal publishe s an article Israel under Siege by the illegal ‘Mayor’ of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert. Churches are shelled, Gospel books burnt, Christia ns persecuted by the Jews in Palestine, but it is Christian anti-Semitism that worries news editors and churchmen.
The accusation of anti-Semitism became the blood libel of our days. Or was it always? In the Merchant of Venice, Shylock complained of Gentile hatred, though it is he who hated, and the others disproved of his loan-sharking practices. Instead of cutting the loan rate, he preferred to cut Antonio’s flesh, and hide behind his claims of discrimination. If Shakespeare’s Portia had our modern attitude, she would rather let Shylock have his pound of flesh than stop him and be accused of anti-Semitism.
Probably in such a spirit, the guardians of the public conscience decided to spike or play down the sacrilege in Bethlehem. The quietude of the West sho uld frighten us well beyond the Middle Eastern context, as it possibly means our civilisation is dead.
Civilisation can’t survive if its sacral heart ceased to beat. When faith loses its relevance, civilisation dies, historian-philosopher Arnold Toynbee wrote in explanation of ancient Egypt’s collapse. There is no life without sacral, seconded the philosophy-of-religion scholar, Mircea Eliade. Whether we accept philosophy of history, or mystic reading, or pragmatic sociological studies; whether we follow Durkheim or Heidegger, the conclusion is the same: indifference to the fate of the Virgin of Bethlehem bodes ill for the Western Christian civilisation. It implies that the Europeans and Americans have lost the sacral core, and our profaned civilisation is doomed to extinction, unless we’ll turn away from the edge of the abyss.
St Barbara of Aboud
Aboud is one of the prettiest Palestinian villages, strongly reminiscent of Tuscany. Its time- mellowed stone houses grow on the gentle hills. Vine climbs up their balconies, leafy fig trees provide shadow to its streets. The prosperity of this well-established village is seen in the spaciousness of the mansions, in the meticulously clean roads. The old men sit in a small and
shady, walled enclosure, on the stone benches, like the aldermen of Ithaca gathered by young Telemachus. That is the biblical ‘gate of the city’, or a diwan. Kids bring them coffee and fresh fruits. Local people are not the refugees of Gaza and Deheishe; here, as in a time warp, one can see the Holy Land as it should and could be.
Three millennia old Aboud received the faith of Christ from Christ himself, says the local tradition, and there is the church ready to prove it, one of the oldest on earth, built in the days of Constantine in the 4th century, or maybe even older, as some archaeologists say. The church is a dainty thing, carefully restored and well taken care of. The Byzantine capitals of its columns bear the image of cross and palm branches. They recently discovered a plaque in old Aramaic script immured in the southern wall of the church.
There are other churches as well: a Catholic, a Greek Orthodox and an American-built Church of God. There is also a new mosque, as Christians and Muslims of the Holy Land live together in great harmony. On December 17th the Muslims and the Christians go together to the old Byzantine church of St Barbara, a local girl and the village patron saint. It is one of these bitter-sweet semi- ruined churches that still attract worshippers, along with St Anne of Safurie and Emmaus of Latrun, and it stands on a hill a mile away from the village. It would be called St Barbara-without-the-walls if it were in England. At the foothill, at the saint’s burial cave, the peasants lit candles and ask for her intercession. In the misty post-Vatican-II days the Catholic Church decided to exclude the Palestinian martyr St Barbara from the list of recognised saints, but she remained a favourite one for the Eastern Churches. There are beautiful new edifices of St Barbara in Florida and Washington, while her breathtaking image by Vasnetsov, a great Russian painter of fin-de-ciecle, shines at the believers in St Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine. A few years ago, the community of Aboud restored the shrine to some extent and renewed Sunday worship.
On the thirty- first of May 2002 the Israeli army dynamited St Barbara, the living relic of the Christian past of the Holy Land. I do not know whether the sappers said the benediction prescribed for such occasions by the Jewish religious codex, Shulkhan Aruch: ‘Blessed you are, Our Lord, Who destroys the Assemblies of Proud’ . The destruction followed the Bethlehem siege; when for the proverbial forty days and forty nights, from the Catholic Good Friday to the Orthodox Easter Sunday, the Jews besieged the Church of Nativity. The destruction passed so quietly, attracting so little attention, that it will probably be continued.
Christianity is the traditional adversary of the Jews. “Against Christians, the Jews rage with an insatiable fury”, wit nessed Origen4 in 2nd century, and in 19th century, Freud confirmed, “Our worst enemy is the Church”, and Graetz the historian seconded: “We must beyond all work
to shutter Christianity5”. In the election campaign of 2003, the churches starred as the
threatening symbol of hate in the Israeli TV prime time.
My friend Miriam from New York, a nice person and a friend of Palestine, learned of the
sacrilege and wrote to me: ‘It is not only churches; they destroy everything meaningful’ .
Well, she is right saying they destroy not only churches. In nearby Nablus, they drove a tank into the Green Mosque, the oldest extant structure built above the cave where Jacob lamented his lost son Joseph. One of the great shrines of Palestine, contemporary with St Barbara, it was a Byzantine church, and later served as a Samaritan synagogue, the centre of worship for local Israelites- not-Jews. Samaritan priests pointed it out to me. A holy place is always attended in the Holy Land, and it again was converted to a church and beautified by Queen Melisende, the pious flirt and the builder of the Holy Sepulchre. It reverted to a mosque eight hundred years ago, when the cathedrals of Chartres and Köln were erected. The mosque was celebrating its fifteen- hundredth anniversary when an Israeli tank broke its wall. Just to show their impartiality, they also bombed the St Philip Episcopal church in Nablus and put St Luke Hospital under curfew.
Miriam is right saying they destroy everything of spirit. It includes nature, as nature is the great source of inspiration. In Jerusalem there was a great spring, the biggest spring of the Highlands. It gave birth to Jerusalem, and it is the reason for the city’s existence. It has a plethora of names: Gihon, Shiloah (in the Bible), Ein Sittna Miriam, after the Virgin, Ein Silwan, after the nearby village. Many events are connected with this living spring. King David’s soldiers climbed up its shaft, Jesus healed blind men at its pool, King Hezekiah bored a half-kilometre- long tunnel to keep its waters within the walls, away from the reach of the Assyrian army. It is forever venerated, and an old mosque stands at its lower exit. Many times in the hot days of July I waded breast-deep the tunnel’s cool length, drinking its sweet water and biding time to emerge at the fig tree above broken Roman columns of the pool.
Then, over a year ago, Ehud Olmert, self-styled ‘Mayor’ of Jerusalem, the great destroyer of Palestinian homes, seized the spring. He locked the entrance, set a Russian guard and a few soldiers, then transferred it lock, stock and barrel to settlers. The Palestinians were not allowed to approach it anymore. Nowadays, the spring is dead. Instead of pure water, the city sewage flows through its tall tunnel. It suffered the fate of many other springs of Palestine. Some have been fenced, others covered with concrete, eliminated by pumping stations or poisoned by sewage. All were killed by the Jews.
I hear a voice. “Oh no! Say `Zionists’!” I would, but it seems unfair to the Jewish people abroad. They work so hard; they demonstrate in support of Israel everywhere from Brussels to San Francisco; they collect funds for Israeli soldiers; they sue everybody who supports Palestine;
they keep news about blown- up Byzantine churches out of your newspapers. Don’t you think
they deserve to be considered as full-blown partners in the Zionist enterprise?
“They make life so miserable that the Palestinians will leave”, wrote ever -so-rational Miriam. Here I tend to disagree. Recently I saw just outside the village of Aboud two giant American-built Caterpillar bulldozers, huge, armour plated, moving fortresses. They towered above the landscape as the mechanical monsters of the Evil Empire and slowly devoured the olive trees. That is their purpose. To destroy. Not just churches, not only mosques, but everything that reminds of Spirit, from olives of anointment to springs of blessing. It is their service to the Faceless Destroyer and their curse.
For they destroy even things they intend to save. A beautiful ancient domed shrine at the Tomb of Rachel was one of the sweetest memorials of the Holy Land. It was not exclusively Jewish, but Jews always had an access to it, together with the Palestinian women who came to ask for her intercession before childbirth. In order to make it exclusively their own, the Jews surrounded the shrine by high wall and for all reasons destroyed it. They are doomed to create a lifeless, spiritless ghetto wherever they are.
The Belgian 19th century writer Charles de Coster6 concludes his description of horrible deeds of Phillip II who burned and tortured devout Dutch Protestants with the words: ‘He found no pleasure in torture’. That is the Jewish fate in the Holy Land: to destroy the vestiges of Spirit and to have no pleasure out of it.
P.S. As an anticlimax, I propose to my readers that they calculate the ratio of Jewish influence in their newspaper in the following way: divide the coverage of a synagogue wall dirtied with graffiti (in square inches of print) by the coverage of the venerable Byzantine church of St Barbara destruction (in square inches of print). Just to remind you: a ratio with the denominator `zero’ equals `infinity’.
The City of the Beloved
Their names bear a touch of medieval morality plays, but instead of Hope, Penance and Mercy, the three sisters are called Amal, Taura, Tahrir, or Hope, Revolution, and Liberation. Dressed like ordinary college girls they are - they would not stick out at Yale or Tel Aviv University. Their books and CDs are the same ones I saw this morning on my son’s shelf. But their smiles, their wonderful happy smiles and high spirits, are quite out of the ordinary, considering their circumstances.
Fifty years ago their parents were expelled from their ancestral home in the South together with 750,000 Palestinians, and the sisters were born into a family of refugees in Halil. They were born one after another, to make up for the many years of their father’s jail term. He was with them but a short while, as his heart gave up when a settler flung a gas grenade into his
sitting room. The youngest sister, Amal, is at high school, while Tahrir is already a sophomore at university, studying architecture, the fine art of dressing thoughts in stone and building homes. Their own home, a modest, three-bedroom stone house with wide windows, set deep in the vineyards of the valley, is doomed.
The messengers of doom stood outside staring at the ruins of the neighbouring house, at its flat roof broken at the centre, and at a grey- haired woman with bright blue eyes who was searching in the vestiges of what was her home until yesterday.
“ Yalla, ufi kvar”, screeched a tall Jewish girl, Barbra-or-something, at the old woman. Get lost!
An accompanying army officer was ready to oblige. He repeated the order in Arabic, and, while the woman climbed up from the crater, told Barbra-or-something about what the old woman had told him: “Her new leg”, he said. “Five thousand shekels’ worth. Over one thousand dollars, bought just a month ago. She used it for her better occasions, and yesterday, whe n we demolished her home, she had on her older limb”.
“No, she lost her leg as a child in 1948, when the Old city of Jerusalem was shelled”, the officer answered the unheard question of a tall, imposing man in an elegant grey suit and a small, head-covering kippa. Meanwhile, two bulldozers pulled away the remainder of the old lady’s home, neatly grabbed the remains of the vineyard and crushed its purple-red leaves into the mud.
At this time of the year, purple-red covers the hills in Halil Country. It is the land of vine, separated by Bethlehem to the north from the land of olive. It is the land of broad terraces, reddish-dry soil, abundant sheep, rare springs, strong faith, and of vine. Though a few hundred years ago the local folk gave up their Orthodox Christian religion and embraced Islam, they still press wine in the millennia-old stone wine presses. In the autumn, the women of Halil sell their heavy, yellow, sweet grapes, still covered by field dust, at Damascus Gate, wearing their long black dresses with exquisite embroidery. When my wife gave birth to our first son, I presented her with just such a black and purple-red dress sewn over many weeks in a village near Halil.
Much as I like the vine land and the people of Halil, it is not a place one visits gladly. As in a Greek tragedy, dreadful doom befalls the city. The sea monster consumed the virgins of Jaffa in the story of Perseus, the Doom of Halil slowly eats up the city and its folk. Day after day, a house is confiscated, a shop torched, a man killed. Now, Halil is the semi-digested object fishermen used to find in the stomachs of decked sharks. It still preserves some features of the ancient, proud city of men, but it is half-eaten. If you ever visited a beautiful, terminally- ill young girl, you kno w the feeling.
In normal times, Halil country would be much admired, for it is very much the Land of
the Bible: its people’s life -style has not changed much. They are the same shepherds and wine-
growers, and the names of their villages are replete with memory. The great Palestinian brigand Daud, later King David, charged protection- money in Maan; the prophet Amos grew up in Tukua; Gad is buried in Halhul. Halil was called Hebron, later St Abraham, later Halil, or the Beloved, for it is a stock epithet of Abraham, the great culture hero of the Middle East. That is the original Judea of kings and prophets: Judean but (despite some similarity of sound) not Jewish, even quite unconnected to the Jews of old, who never ventured into this arid province so far south. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius did not know of those places; the Jewish books, Talmud and Mishna, hardly mentioned Hebron and Bethlehem. The Jews called the land, ‘Idumea’, and its Judean folk, ‘Idumeans’. (In similar vein, the Jews called the lan d of Israel ‘Samaria’, and its Israelites ‘Samaritans’, as they wanted to privatise the heritage of the Bible.) The native Judeans, the people of Halil, did not care: they still worked the same fields and worshipped at the same shrines as did their ancestors, the heroes of the Bible.
Most of all, they cherish their Ibrahimiye Mosque, commemorating the Beloved of God, Ibrahim (or Abraham), the spiritual pathfinder for mankind. This massive edifice of rusticated stones was built in the uncharted past. The Crusaders erected a beautiful basilica on the old foundations, and the benevolent rulers of Cairo and Damascus, Istanbul and Baghdad adorned its walls with Islamic verses. The Mosque of Halil exudes holiness and grace as the font of spirit that broke out in the Judean Hills. Yes, that is uniqueness of the Holy Land: while the Almighty gave oil to our neighbours, He gave the Halilis bottomless deposits of divine spirit. While oil runs out, the more spirit is given away, the more of it remains. Probably that is why the enemy made it so hard to get there.
The Old city of Halil is a dense swarm of medieval houses around the Ibrahimiye Mosque. The closely built houses leave but few entrances into the maze. These have been blocked by iron gates and barbed wire, leaving just two openings for access. The openings are controlled by massive checkpoints. The soldiers checked our documents again, searched us and let us into the city of the Beloved-turned- into-the-worst-jail in the Gulag archipelago of Palestine.
My Virgil in this descent to Hell was an unusual man, Jerry Levin from Alabama. An ex-CNN bureau Chief in Lebanon, he spent almost a year in Hezbollah captivity, and since then, he has lived in the Old City of Halil with a small team of Christian Peacemakers. CPT people bring food to the besieged, try to protect the city’ s folk and suffer the abuses and violence of the settlers and the military. Born a Jew, he embraced Christ and cast his lot with the downtrodden of the Earth.
“ Do not make too much of my Lebanese prison”, he warned me with a wry smile. “Every man here can tell you of much longer and harsher jail terms”.
Children’s eyes watched us from behind iron bars. The streets were empty: for many months, the natives have not been allowed to tread the paved footpaths of their city. Eternal curfew was imposed here years ago. The shops were broken into and torched by looting settlers; the walls bear graffiti in cursive Hebrew script: ‘Kill the Goyim; it is good for the Jews’, ‘Kahane was right’, ‘Bless your soul, Dr Goldstein’.
We knocked on the iron door of a house and heard sounds of heavy locks being removed. The door opened a crack to let us in. We climbed up the narrow staircase to the roof. The grandiose edifice of the Mosque rises high just two hundred yards away, but the inhabitants rarely venture out that far. Narrow planks connect the roofs of the city and allow the besieged Halilis to visit their neighbours. Their children, like birds, run from roof to roof on planks, or stare through bars at the street belo w. The streets were privatised by the settlers, so they can walk there in complete peace, undisturbed by Gentile presence. Regularly, the settlers break doors down and attack the citizens, throw their bedding and chairs through windows and beat them up. That is why their doors are barred by heavy wooden beams and locks. They can’t even go out and buy food: it has to be brought in by European and American volunteers. Many escape this unbearable life, leave their homes, vineyards and properties behind and go into exile. In this half-eaten city, only the strongest remain.
Once, my American friend Michael asked me whether the Palestinians are engaged in non-violent struggle. In Halil, every day, every hour, every minute of a Palestinian’s life is a non-violent struggle for existence. T’is pity it is not very successful. Apparently, the monsters need a Perseus to do the persuading.
We walked out into the open. A settler called to us, peering into the dusk under the arches
above the narrow lane:
“Arabs! Scram! ”
A soldier on the corner calmed him: “They are n’t Arabs. They are internationals ”.
“They are even worse”, said the settler, an elderly East European Jew. And he called out
in his heavy, accented English: “Go away! You are not wanted here ”.
“Neither are you”, we responded, and came out to the Mosque. It was surrounded by three chains of soldiers, mainly recent imports from Ethiopia and Ukraine. We were checked once and once again, asked where from and why, walked through metal- finders and thought-controllers, soldiers’ watchful eyes upon us, full of habitual tireless hate, to the huge cenotaph of Abraham. And yet, I was swept by the aura of holiness coming out of the place, as if my spirit were uplifted on the great tsunami wave. High. Very high. I do not know whether a holy place is holy due to the holy man buried there, or, other way around, they bury holy men in holy places, but certainly it was a holy site.
As I turned around, I saw the settlers who had privatised the spiritual spring. They wore
white prayer shawls with black stripes on their shoulders. They saw me.
“That is an Arab!” said one.
“No, he is a German”.
“No, he is an Arab with an Israeli passport; that is why he looks so arrogant”, said the
“You Arab?” asked the second.
“Sure”, said I.
“Ge t out of here, you vermin!” they shouted.
Actually, the settlers do not care much for the Tomb of the Beloved. They have another grave to worship, that of the mass murderer from Brooklyn, Dr Goldstein. He achieved glory in the Purim of 1994. Purim is the only merry feast of the Jewish calendar, the anniversary of a jolly good massacre committed by their ancestors in Persia some twenty-four hundred years ago, when 75,000 men, women and children, were massacred by the avenging Jews.
In the Purim of 1994, Dr Baruch Goldstein came into the Mosque with two machine guns and a lot of spare clips. The watchful soldiers would not let us bring in a nail- file, but they did not stop him. He entered the prayer hall, called ‘Merry Purim!’ and opened fire. He slaughtered some thirty unarmed worshippers, until the survivors succeeded in killing the rampaging beast. When they carried their wounded and dead out of the mosque, the soldiers opened fire and killed an additional twenty worshippers, calling out ‘Merry Purim!’ When the news of the massacre reached the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, Hanan Porat, a leader of the Jewish Nationalist Religious Party, blessed the parliamentarians with “Merry Purim” .
Dr Goldstein was buried with much respect and love; his grave became a place of mass pilgrimage for the settlers and their admirers from Israel, America and all over the world. Young, plump Jewish maidens come there, lay flowers and light candles on his tomb. Young Jewish soldiers put their American- made M-16 rifles on his tombstone and ask for the holy man’s assistance and guidance. Young couples exchange vows, old men say Kaddish for his soul.
After the murder, there were voices in Israel calling to remove the settlers from Halil. But the Israeli government used it to punish the victims: half of the Mosque was taken over by the Jews; local worshippers were banned from venerating the Tomb of Abraham the Beloved of God; the entrances of the Old City were sealed; dozens of Palestinian homes were confiscated and erased; the main street of the city was forbidden for Palestinian traffic. There is but little difference in outcome: whether a Jew kills or is killed, the Jewish state always uses it as a pretext to steal more land and punish Palestinians.
Still, on Fridays the settlers wo uld go to the Tomb of Abraham, whom they venerate as Christians and Muslims do, but for a different reason. While for us, Abraham is the spiritual father, a man who found the way to commune with God and showed it to mankind; they claim him for a biological ancestor and justification for the privatisation of the holy place. (Adams, the American of Mark Twain’s short story would beat them by claiming direct descent from Adam.) If they could claim George Washington was a Jew, they would surely privatise the White House. (On second thoughts, they have done that anyway.) This perverse reading sits deep in the Jewish psyche, and Natalie, a nice Israeli journalist who accompanied us, asked me:
“Do local Arabs consider Abraham their ancestor as well?”
“The entire wo rld considers him our spiritual ancestor”, I tried to explain to her the non-biological, spiritual and universal faith of Abraham. I reminded her that Abraham rejected his father, Muhammad rejected his tribe, and Christ rejected his brothers’ call and said that his brothers- in-spirit are more important than his brothers- in- flesh, but my words could not make a dent on the vision she was imbued with.
On Fridays, the settlers rule supreme in the city. The army imposes especially heavy curfew and does not let a single goy out of his house to blacken the path of a Jew. The soldiers shoot at kids who dare to play outside. The city can’t breathe until the last Jew disappears into the barbed-wire fenced, for-Jews-only compound. Halil is a good place to learn of the real Jewish intentions about how the world is to be run – much better than reading their hypocritical, saccharine-sweet editorials.
But last Friday was different. After the heavy guard accompanied the settlers into their compound and was on the way to barracks, they came under guerrilla fire. The guerrilla fighters did not want to copy the Jewish mass murderer; they let the worshippers pass in peace to their homes, and only after that did they opened fire. A Perseus dropped by to visit the monster.
Israeli soldiers are brainwashed to believe in their racial superiority, in the superiority of their weapons, in the protection of their Supreme Commander Most High, in the natives’ meekness. They were sure the spirit of Halilis was irredeemably crushed. Arrogant and reckless, they rushed into hot pursuit. The fighters retreated into a lane between vineyards, and as the enemy soldiers entered there, they sprung their deadly trap.
The Jihad fighters used the old ruse of weak against strong, first described by Roman historians, later made into a play, The Horatians and the Curiatians, by the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht. The two warring Roman clans of Horatians and Curiatians met on the battlefield. The weaker Horatians feigned flight, and when their heavily-armed enemies followed them and spread sparse along the route, they turned back and killed the ir pursuers, one after another.
The result was nothing short of a miracle: three Jihad warriors with their carbines killed twelve heavily armed Jews, among them the chief tormentor of Halil, Colonel Gauleiter of the city, the Hebron Division Commander. The fighters could not escape: when they made their noble decision to attack only soldiers and let the settlers pass in peace, they sealed their own fate. Still, they proved their spirit is strong, as strong as foundations of their great shrine.
Often one hears that the Palestinians should act in this or other way. They should not kill the enemy if the enemy takes off his military uniform and goes for a holiday. They should be choosy with their targets, as otherwise it is ‘counter-productive’. The Halil ambush proved this to be but pious nonsense. The attack on the soldiers was the fairest one ever launched against the oppressor. And yet, the US President described it ‘a heinous crime’; the UN Secretary General called it ‘a horrible, bloody deed’ and the misled Pope referred to a ‘massacre of worshippers’. Even the Israeli Chief of Staff laughed at this description and refused to call it a ‘massacre’. Our soldiers died in the battle, he said. But anyway, he ordered the demolition of homes in the ambush lane.
Thus, it does not matter what the Palestinians do, whether they kill Israeli children or fight Israeli soldiers, or even if they are being killed by settlers, they are found guilty anyway, for they did not surrender to the Jews. Those who surrendered without fight won’t forgive them. But the Palestinians of Halil, these most abused people on earth, know the truth. And that is why broad, happy smiles stayed on the innocent faces of the three sisters, Hope, Revolution and Liberation.
The nice Israeli journalist Natalie felt she had to balance her story to make it acceptable
to her editors.
“But what would you say about terrorist acts in Tel Aviv against Israeli civilians?” she demanded from the girls whose home was to be demolished. I wonder what my grandfather in the ghetto of Stanislawow would have answered to the question of a German journalist about his feelings for the German victims of Allied air raids. He would probably have answered as the Canadian Jewish columnist Mordecai Richler did: “I'm glad Dresden was bombed for no useful military purpose”7.
We stood near the place of the ambush on the broad veranda of the three sisters. Probably our looks betrayed our feelings, for the group of settlers and their entourage turned on us. A settler, a sleek Jew, told us:
“You should be on our side”, he said. “You are Jews, aren’t you? It is us or them. Listen
to the voice of your blood; support your people against their enemies”.
“Was it necessary to demolish the houses of innocent people just because somebody shot
at your soldiers in the vicinity?” asked Jerry.
The imposing, tall man in the grey suit looked at us sternly.
“How do you dare to speak of houses, when human life was extinguished here?” He was