Commentary Magazine


What if a Synagogue Were Burned and Other Silly Questions

The New York Times reports that the “West Bank Is Tense After Arson at Mosque,” which is believed to be the work of Jewish extremists. Palestinian Arabs are rightly upset at this crime. So are Israelis. And therein hangs the tale of Middle East peace.

The fire at the mosque in the village of Yasuf appears to have been set last week by some Jewish settlers demonstrating their anger toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to temporarily freeze building in Jewish communities in the West Bank. Extremists have vowed to counter such moves by increasing tensions with the Arabs. If it is true that Jews committed this crime, this is clearly madness and is rejected not only by the overwhelming majority of the people of Israel but also by the overwhelming majority of the approximately 300,000 Jews who live in the settlements. Local Jewish religious leaders attempted to visit Yasuf to express their condolences, but they were prevented from going there. So instead they met with Munir Abbushi, the Palestinian Authority’s regional governor, and presented him with new Korans. Abbushi accepted the Korans but then stated that Palestinian independence would mean that all Jews would have to be removed from the region. The Palestinians reject the right of Jews to live in their midst under any circumstances and regardless of who has or has not committed crimes.

But if you really wanted to get a feel for how differently the two communities think about these things, ask yourself what would happen if, instead of a mosque, a synagogue had been burned down. But this is not a hypothetical question.

In October 2000, at the start of the Palestinians’ second intifada, the Tomb of Joseph, a Jewish holy site in Nablus that served as a synagogue and religious school, was literally torn to pieces by an Arab mob. As Palestinian Authority “police” looked on, the mob destroyed the building and burned the sacred texts inside. But instead of treating the crime as an embarrassment to the national cause, among Palestinians it was treated as a cause for celebration. Another ancient synagogue in Jericho was also burned down that month. And even before the intifada, the Tomb of Rachel, a Jewish shrine near Bethlehem, was subjected to continual attacks. It had to be surrounded by fortifications to keep both the building and worshipers from harm.

In 2005, the Israeli government evacuated Gaza and removed every single Jewish soldier and settler from the area. The only things left behind were buildings, including the synagogues that had served the Jews who were forced out. But rather than treat these edifices with respect, if only to use them for their own purposes, the Palestinians burned every one down in a barbaric communal orgy of destruction. Again, no apologies were forthcoming from the Palestinians. Nor did world opinion treat this incident as worthy of condemnation. The fact that the Palestinians could not bring themselves to let even one former synagogue stand was a frightening reminder that the two sides still don’t view the conflict in the same way. To the Palestinians, this is not a tragic misunderstanding between two peoples but rather a zero-sum game.

So, as much as friends of Israel are right to condemn the mosque attack, let us not forget that when the tables were turned and Jewish sensibilities were offended, the Palestinians were not only unwilling to condemn similar incidents but instead celebrated them. Until that imbalance changes, hopes for peace will never be realized.

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