Together, we bore witness: four rabbis and others murdered early Tuesday morning in a Jerusalem synagogue while worshippers were davening Shacharit. Streaks of blood, stained prayer books and debris marked the sacred site long after the dead were carried away.
Together, our minds were indelibly seared by images of victims and murderers, hospitalized survivors and suffering, grieving witnesses shaking with fear and anger.
Together, we pray.
“There can be no equivocation in condemning [Tuesday’s] terrorist attack in Jerusalem and expressing pure sympathy for the victims, their families and their community… This brazen slaughter of men at prayer serves no legitimate political purpose other than to dangerously escalate tensions between two people who clearly have not tried hard enough to figure out how to live together in some semblance of peace and respect,” The Jewish Daily Forward wrote.
Together, we pray.
Tuesday, I channel-surfed for hours looking for answers, context. From pundits and politicians, from the rabbis’s friends came expressions of mourning, anger, rage — and calls for revenge.
No one considered context. No one wondered what in the Palestinian narrative, in a collective Palestinian consciousness, could inspire such a despicable act.
No one noted, for example, that the neighborhood, Har Nof, where the murderous attacks occurred, was once Deir Yassin, where one of the most infamous massacres of over 100 Arab villagers was committed by Irgun and Lehi forces during Israel’s War of Independence — a massacre seared in the collective memory of every Palestinian.
No one remembered, for example, that 20 years ago Baruch Goldstein, an American-born Israeli killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers and wounded 125 in Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, or that Goldstein’s tombstone, with its epitaph “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land” stands still, venerated by sympathizers.
No one noted that, as some Gazans cruelly celebrated Har Nof’s murderers, that as recently as 2010 some Israeli colonists in East Jerusalem’s Shaikh Jarrah neighborhood sang in front of their Arab neighbors, “Dr. Goldstein, there is none other like you in the world. Dr. Goldstein, we all love you… he aimed at terrorists’ heads, squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets, and shot, and shot.”
We need to know. It’s not to excuse, but without knowing each other’s narratives, each other’s pain, we have no path forward.
Without knowing we are blind.
No history justifies massacre. It’s that death, dispossession and persistence of memory in the collective consciousness of an occupied people shouldn’t be ignored or disregarded.
I’m writing is that absent hope there is no peace.
It’s not yet a religious war in Jerusalem, but there’s risk. Occupation is political, not religious. While many Palestinians believe that all means, including armed struggle, are legitimate to resist occupation, most also know that there are limits — most certainly know that violence in all those places where God’s name is abundantly extolled is off-limits.
Israel’s Shin Bet director Yoram Cohen, speaking after the synagogue murders, told a Knesset committee that Palestinian President Abbas “is not interested in terrorism and is not leading [his people] to terrorism.”
Cohen’s comments contradicted Israeli leaders who accused Abbas of incitement by his calls to “defend Al-Aqsa.” Prime Minister Netanyahu called the synagogue slaughter “the direct result of incitement led by Hamas and Abu Mazen, incitement that the international community is irresponsibly ignoring.”
Rather, as Yoram Cohen said, confrontations began after the July 2nd Jerusalem murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu-Khidr and that the tensions were exacerbated by a proposed Knesset bill to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount — where Jews believe their First temple was built — and Muslims belief to be the Noble Sanctuary from where the Prophet Muhammad made his Miraculous Night Journey to Heaven.
Peace won’t come from collective punishment, home demolitions or from increased settlement. It will come only from recognizing the dignity and legitimacy of those with whom you share the land.
After Deir Yassin, philosopher Martin Buber wrote to David Ben Gurion that the massacre had become “infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world, and the whole world.”
Today, the Har Nof synagogue attack is itself becoming infamous throughout the Jewish world, the Arab world, and the whole world.
Today, we must bear witness.
Witness: The Talmud says, “Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”
Witness: Today, the last Sunday before Advent, many Christian’s will read Ezekiel: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”
Witness: Today, before Thanksgiving, in the multitude of beauty that is Jerusalem and basking in its abundant light that truth, reconciliation and justice is our path to peace.
Together, we’re the lost and strayed, the weak and injured. We’ve had enough of massacres and the infamous, of revenge, reprisals and retribution. It’s time to stop. It’s time to allow all humanity – believers and non-believers – to allow all those who pray in “all monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques – in all of which God’s name is abundantly extolled, (Qur’an)” both to live in dignity and peace and to believe in a future of freedom and prosperity.
American Rachel Corrie, a nonviolent peace activist who died in Gaza protesting Israeli occupation, wrote, “This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop.”
I agree: Stop. All of you. Just stop
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.