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What does ‘blood libel’ have to do with it?

At some point during my time here, I have started to wake up with the question “Who has died while I slept?”. I am pretty certain to find someone. The deaths of the Orthodox Jews praying at the synagogue in Har Nof was easy. The news was splashed across every news outlet. These are the easy ones because they are Jewish blood; Jewish blood seen here and around the world as more sacred than Palestinian blood. Gideon Levy wrote eloquently about this in a recent article: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone. And therein lies the sadness, for most there is but one victim.

We were invited to a group discussion to work through our feelings regarding this latest atrocity, the one that was picked up by the news feeds around the world. We are never invited to such a discussion when it is Palestinian blood at the hand of an Israeli.

The discussion was instigated and facilitated by a religious leader of the community. People talked about how they were afraid. They were afraid that they would be targeted because they were Jewish; a fear that Israel was designed to protect them against. They described how they did not feel such a fear in the cities and towns they came from — cities and towns outside of Israel. Some wondered why they were even in Israel.

When one of the participants suggested that some of the violence that had emerged, may be a reaction to the attempts of Jewish extremists to gain access to Al Aqsa; and the resulting Palestinian fears that this was yet another Israeli attempt to take more from them, the religious leader became indignant.

He declared that such a line of thought bordered on “blood libel”. Coincidentally, shortly after the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also called the attack “blood libel.” Apparently he was blaming the attack on the worshipers at the synagogue as retaliation for the earlier death of a Palestinian bus driver, Yussef Ramouni. Israeli news outlets reported Yussef’s death as suicide while Palestinian news outlets reported the death as a murder carried out by Israeli settlers. This death was not easy. A friend of ours was dismayed that she was never aware that it happened. Palestinian deaths are seldom reported.

Later, when asked what was meant by ‘blood libel’, our facilitator explained,

“For now, what I mean by ‘blood libel’ is distortion of truth (outright lies) . . . as in the classic blood libel against the Jews of using the blood of Christian children in the baking of matzah. I equate the Palestinian Authority’s false accusations regarding the fate of the Palestinian from A-Tur (this continues to be under investigation and right now it looks like suicide), as well as their accusation that Israel seeks to take over Al-Aksa (I do not accept this is a government position) — not to even mention the incitement and beyond disturbing political cartoons which appear in Palestinian papers (literally of Jews raping the Temple Mount). As much as I condemn fundamentalist Jews and extreme right wing positions, I cannot sympathize with Palestinian distortions that bring about the slaughter of four innocent Jews who were praying Shaharit. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to call this the equivalent of ‘blood libel.'”

I am always disturbed when I see this transposing of the atrocities committed against Jews onto Palestinians. I am always disturbed because through this misuse of terminology and history, Palestinians are demonized through historical acts that had little to do with them.

This transference is disingenuous and does a disservice to Jews around the world and throughout history. It does a disservice to those Jews who lived through the times of the ‘blood libels’ that pitted Christians against Jews; and yet Jewish ‘leaders’ and ‘supporters’ of Israel continue to ignore Israel’s transgressions against the Palestinian people preferring to invoke transgressions against Jews that the Palestinians had nothing to do with.

Our facilitator questioned the death of the bus driver by claiming the Palestinian Authority has spread false rumours. The rumours must be false because the death is still under investigation. What our ‘religious leader’ does not wish to see or understand is that the Israelis are doing the investigating. It would take a real leap of faith by the Palestinians to believe in an Israeli investigation. It would take a leap of faith to believe in impartiality.

This would not be the first time that a Palestinian death was attributed to one cause only to be revealed later that the original accusations were correct. Just this week, a member of the Israeli border police was charged with manslaughter after months of denial over the use of live ammunition. Yet, our religious leader might be inclined to lump this death, the death of Nadeem Siam, in with ‘blood libel’. This seems to have been what Michael Oren did on CNN, though he did not use the term ‘blood libel’.

As for Al Aqsa, and official government policy . . . much of what Israel has done is never offical policy until it becomes offical policy. There is the adage that ‘actions speak louder than words’ but there is a similar blindness, to that held by our facilitator and most of the Jewish community, to the actions until they become reality by which time there is another policy that is not official.

A recent article in the New York Post: The Politics of Prayer at the Temple Mount, chronicles what is happening behind the scenes. This is not official policy, but those who set official policy are enablers. You can take what you want from it, but if I were Muslim, I’d be worried.

Like the religious leader and others who were so quick to claim ‘blood libel’, I too have been trying to process the killings at the synagogue. My mind keeps turning to the killings that took place at al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

On February 25, 1994 an Israeli settler walked into the al-Ibrahimi Mosque and killed 29 Palestinian worshipers while injuring 125. The assailant was beaten to death. In protests that followed, another 25 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed.

Settler car near Hebron checkpoint between H1 & H2
Settler car near Hebron checkpoint between H1 & H2
Hebron’s Shuhada Street
Hebron’s Shuhada Street

Instead of removing the settlers, the Israeli military implemented a policy of separation between settlers and Palestinians on Hebron’s streets. The result is heavily guarded enclaves. Palestinian neighbors are faced with with a matrix of checkpoints and restricted areas. Hebron’s Shuhada Street, once a busy commercial center, has had many of its shop doors welded shut by military order, giving the area the appearance of a ghost town.

After the killings, the Palestinians were met with a curfew, and had their house of worship split in half. Now half of the shrine is Jewish only access and Muslims need to go through two Israeli checkpoints in order to access the Muslim half.

You might conclude, as I have, that there is no similarity here, other than people died. And therein lies the sadness.