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This is the first issue of Insight Israel: The Schechter View, which will appear on a regular basis. The brainchild of Mr. Robert Rifkind, Chairman of the Schechter Institute International Board of Governors, its purpose is to allow me, and other members of the faculty at the Schechter Institute, to relate to current events in Israel from our own unique perspective. What follows is the first such opinion piece in which I react to the recent Palestinian violence in Israel. Each issue of Insight Israel represents the individual opinion of the writer and in no way reflects an official policy of the institution.
I, like many Israelis, have been a strong supporter of the peace process for the past seven years. Shortly after Rabin and Arafat signed the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in September 1993, I published a responsum in Moment magazine in which I maintained that it is permissible according to Jewish law to return territories for the sake of peace (Moment December 1993, pp. 34, 89, reprinted in my book Responsa in a Moment, Jerusalem, 2000, pp. 31-36).
That is why I, along with millions of Israelis, was so shocked by the current Palestinian violence. At Camp David this past July, Prime Minister Barak offered the Palestinians a State to include 90% of the territories and sovereignty over part of Jerusalem. This was an extremely generous offer – probably much more liberal than the national consensus. But as Abba Eban once said: “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. The fact that it was rejected by Arafat followed by the current round of pointless violence calls into question whether Arafat and the Palestinians really want to compromise and make peace with Israel.
This is a profoundly depressing thought for the majority of Israelis who are in favor of making peace. There are no simple solutions to our current situation. But for now, Israel needs to quell the violence and combat the constant barrage of misinformation being spread by the Palestinians and the world media.
What follows, therefore, are a few basic facts which you can use to reply to the myths which you have heard countless times during the last month.
Myth: The current violence began as a spontaneous reaction to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount on September 28th.
Fact: Two days before Sharon’s visit, an Israeli soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Gaza and another by a Palestinian policeman on joint patrol. On Friday, the day after Sharon’s visit, the preacher at the El Aksa Mosque called at Friday prayers to “eradicate the Jews from Palestine”. The worshippers went outside and started to throw stones at Israeli police – as a result of which the first three Palestinians were killed. Meanwhile, the official Palestinian TV station began broadcasting archival footage of the Intifada showing young people throwing stones. In case one still didn’t get the message, the Voice of Palestine radio began playing patriotic war songs. Finally, there was a detailed report in the Washington Post which described one of the riots in which Arafat’s lieutenant Bargoutti was standing on a hill orchestrating the entire riot.
What happened? Apparently, Arafat and the Palestinian leadership decided once again to use violence as a political weapon. But now that they have unleashed the genie of violence from the bottle, it is not clear that they have the ability to put the cap on.
Myth: Israel is the aggressor.
Fact: There have been thousands of incidents of violence since September 29. With a few exceptions, almost every incident began with an act of violence perpetrated by Palestinians to which the Israeli police and army reacted. This is in keeping with the Jewish legal principle “habah l’horgekha hashkem l’horgo” — “If someone is coming to kill you, rise early and kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a). Furthermore, it is totally in keeping with the accepted behavior of all democracies – violent protests are quelled by force. If this is true of violent protests where the purpose is burning and looting, how much the more so is it true of violent protests whose purpose is to kill as many Israeli soldiers and civilians as possible.
Myth: The U.N. Security Council has condemned Israel for “use of excessive force”.
Fact: Israel has acted with great restraint. For the past four weeks Palestinians have been shooting live ammunition at civilians in the town of Psagot near Ramallah, in Hebron and in the Gilo neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. Israel finally retaliated in Gilo by helicopter and tank fire this week after a particularly heavy attack. The counter-attack aimed at the specific houses in Bet Jala which were the source of the shooting.
Myth: CNN’s Israel Bureau Chief, Mike Hanna, says “the network has attempted to be as fair and comprehensive as possible, covering both sides…” (Jerusalem Post, Friday, October 20, 2000, p. B1).
Fact: I have watched CNN many times during the past four weeks. The reporters have repeatedly stated that Israelis were shooting Palestinian stone throwers while showing pictures of the Palestinians shooting back. No mention was made of constant shooting by Palestinians at the Jewish areas mentioned above. No mention was made of the fact that the Palestinians opened fire on a synagogue in Efrat during Neilah. Men, women and children were pinned down by gunfire until Israeli soldiers, including our faculty member Yair Paz, rescued them. Christianne Amanpour’s lengthy interview of Ehud Barak a few weeks ago was a hatchet job in which her hostility was blatant and obvious. After a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, Israel retaliated by shooting rockets at the Palestinian police stations in Ramallah and Jericho. The CNN headline ran: “Israel attacks Ramallah and Jericho with helicopter gunships”. More recently, when Israeli hikers – men, women and children – were shot and killed near Shechem (Nablus) and were saved after a five-hour gun battle, the Skynews headline said: “Israel attacks Palestinians with helicopter gunships.”
Myth: Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are equally holy to Jews and Muslims.
Fact: Jerusalem has been both the capital and the holiest site of the Jewish people for 3000 years since the time of King David. Jerusalem and Zion are mentioned 821 times in the Hebrew bible and on almost every page of the siddur (prayerbook). Indeeed, Jews all over the world are required to face Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in prayer (Berakhot 30a). The Temple Mount was the site of the First Temple erected by King Solomon ca. 960 BCE (I Kings Chapters 6-8) and the Second Temple rebuilt by Zerubabel ca. 520 BCE (Ezra Chapter 3) and expanded by King Herod beginning in the year 19 BCE (Josephus, Antiquities 15:380).
By contrast, Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran It is hinted at in one place in the Koran (Sura 17) entitled “The Night Journey” which says that Mohammed was carried in a vision at night” from the sacred temple to the temple that is most remote”. In the seventh century some Muslims identified the two temples in that verse as Mecca and Jerusalem and that is why Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock were built on the Temple Mount. Muslims all over the world face Mecca in prayer, not Jerusalem.
Myth: If Israel gives the Palestinians sovereignty over the Temple Mount they will guarantee equal access to Jews.
Fact: According to the armistice agreement with Jordan (April 3, 1949), Jews were guaranteed free access to the Jewish holy places in the Old City and to the Jewish cemetery on the Mt. Of Olives. Yet in fact this access was denied. Between 1948-1967 Jordan desecrated all of the synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem as well as thousands of Jewish graves on the Mt. of Olives. Since 1967, Israel, in a one-sided and perhaps overly generous move, allowed the Waqf to run the Temple Mount. Jews are not allowed to pray there in a minyan and when a Jew is sighted mouthing silent prayers he is ejected from the Temple Mount. Finally, we have seen in recent weeks just how the Palestinians would protect Jewish holy sites. When Israel evacuated Joseph’s tomb in Shechem (Nablus), the Palestinian authorities promised to protect the site. Within a few minutes the site was overrun, Torah scrolls and prayerbooks were burned and the building was destroyed and turned into a Mosque. After two Israeli soldiers were lynched in Ramallah, Israel shot rockets at the Police Headquarters in Jericho. The Palestinians, in turn, burned down the “Shalom al Yisrael” synagogue in Jericho which is built around a mosaic floor from the original sixth-century synagogue. This, despite the fact that free access to this synagogue was protected by the Oslo Accords.
What can you do?
Visit Israel this year. CNN and the electronic media have gravely harmed Israeli tourism by portraying Israel as a battleground. Many hotels have laid off all of their workers. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Almost all of the violence is restricted to the territories. Life here goes on as normal with small children walking to school and riding the buses alone as they have always done.
Where does Schechter fit in?
In times of war or unrest, many Israelis ask themselves: What am I doing here? Is it worth the tension? An Israeli who is ignorant of Jewish history and tradition is hard-pressed to answer those questions. An Israeli who knows his own tradition and history knows why he is here: Eretz Yisrael has been our land since God promised it to Abraham some 3800 years ago. Jerusalem has been our capital since King David captured the city 3000 years ago. Despite our exile 2000 years ago, we maintained our connection to the Land of Israel, through the bible, the siddur, the haggadah and rabbinic literature and through constant waves of aliyah. Zionism did not begin in Basle in 1897; it began in Genesis, Chapter 12, ca. 1800 BCE. An Israeli who knows his tradition knows why he is here and Palestinian violence and misinformation will not shake his commitment to Israel and Zionism. That is why the Schechter Institute must continue to teach our tradition to 30,000 Israelis every year.
All four volumes of Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin’s Responsa In A Moment – Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues as well as other books by the author are available for purchase from the Schocken-JTS Press Bookstore.
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.