On Tuesday morning , children arrived at the Max Rayne Hand to Hand school in Jerusalem to find graffitti painted on the outer wall of their school building: “Death to Arabs!” and “Kahane was right!”,. The Hand to Hand school is run by the Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel. It provides K-12 education to a religiously and ethnically diverse student body that includes Arab and Armenian Christians, secular and traditional Jews, as well as Muslim students. Its curriculum integrates peace education with regular academic studies.
That same morning at a Greek Orthodox Monastery in Emek haMatzleva (valley of the cross), near the Israel Museum, someone had painted “Death to Christains!”, “Jesus drop Dead!”, “Kehane was right”, “Price Tag” and “The Macabees of Migron” on two cars and a stone fence outside the monastery The car tires were also slashed. The Jerusalem Municipality removed the graffiti by 9AM.
Those working at the monaster were upset, but determined to stay true to their religious convictions. One of the priests at the monastery, Father Claudio, told reporters “I am a priest. I will forgive.”
Police are investigating both attacks. They suspect that both attacks were the work of settlers but they don’t know if they are connected to each other. Evidence pointing to settler involvement include the slogan “Price Tag” and the allusion to Migron painted on the monastery walls. The Israeli government is forcing the evacuation and demolition of the Migron settlement against the will of its residents.
These two attacks come on the heels of a wave of suspected settler attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the West Bank.
- Saturday night or early Sunday morning (February 5) vandals vandals slashed the tires of a taxi and painted “Death to Arabs!”, “revenge”, and “closed military zone” on a taxi and the steps of a house in Al-Janiya near Ramalla. (Sources: Reuters, Jerusalem Post)
- The previous Thursday, February 2, settlers in K’far Etzion slashed tires of Arab cars and threw stones at passing cars in retalization for earlier stone throwing by their Arab neighbors. (Source: Kol haYehudi)
- Also on Thursday, February 2, the tires were slashed on Seven Arab cars in Jerusalem in relation for property damage in the settlement of Mitzpeh AviChai. (Source: Kol haYehudi)
- Wednesday, February 1, in Tzir Gilead in the West Bank, a 60 year old Palestinian woman was hit in the head when settlers threw stones at passing cars. Many of the cars were also damaged. The stone throwing was in retaliation for two Israelis who were lighly hurt by Arab stone throwing. (Source: Kol haYehudi)
Some of these incidents, like the K’far Etzion attack are part of an on-going feud with a neighboring Arab village. One could argue that both sides are acting abominably and giving as good as they get.
However, it is hard to make that case for the attacks on the school and monastery in Jerusalem. Migron is a settlement 8 miles and at least one checkpoint away from Jerusalem. Both the school and the monastery are well within the green line on the western side of city of Jeruslem. The Emek haMatzvelah monastery is a working monastery that has existed quietly in the center of Jerusalem for years. Neither Hand to Hand nor the monastery have ever had a reputation for violence.
Attacking children and peaceful religious communities crosses a line that can’t be justified. These are “non-combattants”. Although the level of violence was much less: graffitti versus bombs, there is no moral difference between Jews attacking a school or monastery and Arabs attacking a cafe filled with children in Purim costumes. Neither act can claim self-protective realiation – the one’s being attacked are not the ones doing the attacking. Both exist simply for show. They use innocent people to send a message to politicians and governments. They both work on the assumption that civilians can be used as hostages in a political game.
Jewish law does not permit humiliating or shaming fellow human beings except to stop a wrong act as it is actually happening. It does not allow attacking human beings to send “messages” to political leaders. It does not allow attacking people simply because one doesn’t like the fact they exist. A well known Talmudic middrash (Sanhedrin 37a) says that all human beings were created from Adam so that no human being might think he was better than the other.
It is easy to condemn when we identify with the victim. Not surprisingly, Greek Orthodox Archbishop Theodosios (Atallah) Hanna condemned the attack saying “what the settlers have done is rejected, and their racism is humiliating. … They didn’t harm us, they harmed only themselves, …We strongly condemn any attack against holy sites for any religion; it is totally prohibited.” Archbishop Theodosios has a long history of identifying with Palestinian Christians and being unwilling to condemn terrorism.
MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) also condemned the attack. “This is hooliganism and racism that damages the authority of the law and endangers the attempt to live in cooperation and safety,” Other condemnations from Israeli leaders were hard to find.
But it shouldn’t just be people on the left condemning the attacks. As Jews we have an obligation to speak out when fellow Jews violate our deepest principles. “Silence is consent” ( שתיקה כהודאה) our tradition tells us. We understand that all too well when we identify with the victim. Do we have the courage to believe it when we identify with the aggressor?