Sunday, June 27, 2004

If not totally justified, at least understood

June 27, 2004

“Stamp Out Islam!” – There, bet that got your attention. If I were to leave it at that, I would more than likely be arrested, indicted, and probably convicted of racism, incitement and other such palatable crimes. But the phrase that begins this commentary is not mine. I’m quoting someone else.
OK, you say to yourselves, he’s only repeating what his next door neighbor screamed, last night, or what one of the kids down the road chants five times daily. Right? Wrong.
I’m not citing either one of them. I’m only quoting a graffiti sign in a rural New Jersey, USA neighborhood. According to a CNN-Associated Press internet report []: In Lutz, Florida, “Kill the Arabs” was written on the walls of a mosque at the Islamic Community Center, whose windows were smashed. In Union City, New Jersey, liquor and beer bottles were hurled at a mosque. In Ballwin, Missouri a swastika with the word “Die” was painted on the wall of a mosque. Near Houston, Texas, dead fish were dumped at the entrance to a mosque. In Orland Park, near Chicago, community residents opposed a mosque’s building application.
Let’s take a look at some other figures. According to an AFP article, several weeks ago United States F.B.I. director Robert Mueller told a Congressional committee that there have been 532 attacks against Muslims, Sikhs, and Arabs in the US since the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Some 200 people have been criminally charged. In the Hutchinson Report dated October, 2001, the author writes, “The see-no-evil approach of many police agencies to hate violence is also glaringly evident in the wildly erratic way that state and federal officials respond to hate violence,” referring to hate crimes against Muslims following the World Trade Center attacks.
The Muslim American Society, in an article called, “Hate Crimes Linger Long After September 11, it is written, “The largest number of complaints came from Maryland, Virginia, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas and California; home to some of the largest Muslim communities.
Other articles easily accessible via internet searches quickly reveal deep suspicions about Islam and Arabs throughout the world: Australia, South Korea, and Africa, just to name a few. On Sunday morning a South Korean journalist contacted me, asking permission to film a feature about Hebron’s Jewish community, saying to me, “We too have been hit with terrorism,” relating, of course, to the barbaric beheading of a South Korean citizen by Islamic fanatics only a few days ago.
In other words, there are other places in the world besides Israel where anti-Arab, anti-Islam feelings run high.
What am I getting at?
Over the past few weeks, world media has been flooded with newspaper and internet articles dealing with a photo exhibition, showing in Tel Aviv. In the words of Ha’Aretz newspaper, from June 27, 2004, “During 14 months of service in Hebron, Yehuda Shaul could not bear the moral erosion he saw in himself and his comrades. Now the ultra-Orthodox 21 year-old has organized an exhibit of soldier’s photographs to bring the reality of the territories home.”
The CNN headline cries, “Soldiers’ photo exhibit strikes nerve,” and describes “Captured in the photos is a young Palestinian boy who was blindfolded and handcuffed for eight hours after he was caught throwing stones. Also pictured are Palestinian men left by the side of the road for hours at a time. And displayed on the wall are car keys confiscated from Palestinian drivers caught breaking curfew.”
Prominently mentioned in other articles, are graffiti comments, scrawled on Hebron shops and walls, “Arabs to the gas chambers” and “Arabs are sand niggers.”
Every once in a while a reporter remembers to call us and ask for a reaction.
A point should be made clear. The Hebron community, both the leadership and the residents, neither condone acts that should not be executed, nor words that should not be said or written. However, if examined closely, there is most always a reason behind the actions.
First, concerning alleged wrongdoings by Hebron children. I am frequently asked about graffiti appearing on Hebron shops and walls. Most of the drawings are Jewish stars, and remembrances of Shalhavet and others who have been murdered. So what? If you were a child who lived in a neighborhood where your next door neighbor had been shot, or stabbed, or your best friend’s father or another family member had been killed or wounded in a terrorist attack, what would you do? And how would you react when the terror continued and continued and continued, and the government did literally nothing to stop it. So it was in Hebron, where we were shot at day and night, for two years. Occasionally someone writes expressions that are uncalled for. My friend and colleague, Noam Arnon, was once arrested because he was spray-painting over such graffiti. He was suspected of writing it himself.
On the other hand, we know for a fact that certain provocative graffiti was written by outsiders, native English-speakers, whose goal was not to express their real feelings about Arabs, rather to muddy Hebron’s name. We have gone so far as to bring official complaints to the Israeli police about certain individuals whose identities were known to us. The police, to the best of my knowledge, ignored these complaints. None of the kids in Hebron know what a ‘sand nigger’ is, and I, who grew up in the United States, had never heard the phrase before.
Concerning the charges made by these soldiers against their friends: Such deeds should be considered as almost treasonous. Anyone with knowledge of illegal activities should turn to the proper authorities. To publicly advertise such actions calls the purposes of the photographers into question. Please note that the force behind this exhibit, Yehuda Shaul, says in the Ha’Aretz article, “I was right-wing, even far right…Something inside me started to crack…I discovered [Yeshayahu] Leibowitz and [Aviezer] Ravitzky.”
Leibowitz is considered by many orthodox Jews to be an apostate. Ravitzky is a leader of an Israeli left wing organization.
Concerning the pictures and actions themselves: remember, terrorists look just like everyone else – they have two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Usually they don’t wear a sign around their necks declaring: I am a terrorist. The soldiers in Hebron, most of who are not yet 21 years old, have a very difficult task: protecting Hebron’s Jews, watching out for their own safety and weeding out terrorists who plan attacks in such places as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
These soldiers also know that some of their comrades are no longer among the living because they were not suspicious enough. They know that 12, 14 and 15 year-old Arabs participate in terror attacks. Only two weeks ago a fourteen year-old was discovered attempting to talk a 12 year old into becoming a suicide bomber. Such a terrible reality sometimes demands drastic measures. And there is a very fine line between permissible drastic measures and unacceptable such actions. I wonder, for instance, what the people in Lutz, Florida, would say about Yehuda Shaul and his friends.
One other point of interest. I have, in my possession, a framed certificate of gratitude from Yehuda Shaul’s company which says, “To Anat Cohen and her family, we thank you for making our stay in Hebron more pleasurable, and we wish continuing living in Hebron, with delight and security.”
I have no doubt that the photo exhibition in Tel Aviv is nothing more that a left-wing ploy, aimed at convincing the general public that Israel has no place in Yesha. The soldiers who put it together don’t care about morals or ethics. If they did, they would not have publicly betrayed their friends in uniform. They are politicizing their army service, in order to further their own political beliefs. There is no excuse for such a betrayal.
Not to be misunderstood. There are acts which are not totally justifiable. However, most of them, under the circumstances, can and should, be understood.
With blessings from Hebron.

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