Friday, May 6, 2011

Denying Culture, Denying History

Getty Images. People meet to pray at a vigil honoring Ben-Yosef Livnat, murdered by PA police at the Tomb of Joseph

As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. (Joshua, 24:32)

This is the history of my people. This is the story of how they brought the remains of their ancestor home to their own land from exile, and laid him to rest. Joseph's tomb has been a pilgrimage site for Jews for thousands of years. This is our heritage, in the simplest, deepest sense. A tribal ancestor and hero lies buried there. Like Hebron, like Rachel's Tomb, this is a sacred place to Jews everywhere.

Jews have always made pilgrimages to such places. A friend once told me about her grandfather, who made an annual pilgrimage from Baghdad to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, by train. I imagine this would have been in the 1930s or early 40s. Only Muslims were permitted to actually enter the tomb, but he would go as far as he was allowed, to pray as near to the shrine as he could. Every year the man did this, at enormous expense and danger, to express his piety. This is whole history lost on people who talk big about the Middle East--a total lack of understanding of what it meant to be a Jew before Jews had a country. In Baghdad, as everywhere else in the Middle East, you were a second-class citizen. Even if you had the money for a ticket from Iraq to Palestine, and most didn't, you couldn't expect to be treated like a human being in either place. And usually, you weren't.

Jews continue to travel to Joseph's tomb to pray whenever they can. The tomb rests inside the Palestinian Authority, which has permitted it to be repeatedly vandalized, but pilgrims continue to make their way there. Often they make their way under IDF guard, by prearrangement. Sometimes worshipers, especially young male worshipers, sneak in. That's what happened on April 24, when a group of young Israeli men quietly made their way to the tomb. As they were leaving, Palestinian Authority police officers opened fire on their cars. One man, 25-year-old Ben-Joseph Livnat, a father of four, was killed.

Baz Ratner/Reuters. Ben-Yosef Livnat's funeral procession.

 Peaceful civilians, leaving a place of prayer, were gunned down by armed police, murdered in cold blood, and the best excuse that could be come up with were, 'they didn't fill out the correct paperwork'. In the aftermath of the shooting, men from nearby Palestinian communities rioted and set the tomb on fire. (Again, this has happened a few time.) (In theory, Joseph's Tomb is, actually, also a Muslim holy site. How the nominal Muslims who have repeatedly vandalized it justify this to themselves is their problem.)

Another tragedy. Another murder. Another desecration of religiously and culturally sacred space.

A man who posts frequently to a blog I contribute to went a little nuts after Livnat's death, and the assault on the tomb. He said a number of things that I and the other bloggers found offensive, and was asked to tone it down. But while I was clear with him that some of the things he was saying were unacceptable, I also noticed that many other people in the group were simply shocked by his anger. Jews, like women, are not supposed to be angry. We are not supposed to feel fury when we are violated. We are supposed to consider what we did to deserve this.

Indymedia UK posted Palestine Today's comment on the incident: On the ground, Palestinian sources reported that hundreds of Israeli settlers, mostly armed, are roaming around the city of Nablus in the northern part of the West Bank. This motion by the settlers comes two days after an Israeli settler was shot dead in Nablus, believed to be by Israeli military gunfire by mistake.

The settlers was killed when a group of settlers invaded Nablus and attempted to enter the Tomb of Joseph in the city. Palestinian police tried to stop them however, the settlers pointed their guns at the police. Palestinian sources say settlers opened fire in the air to stop the settlers. Immediately a nearby Israeli military post responded to eh source of fire, which led to the settlers' death.

Both Israel and the PA are investigating the incident, but no final report has been issued yet.

So, let me see if I've got this straight--the 'settlers' invaded Nablus, tried to shoot the police, and were themselves gunned down by an Israeli military post? Oddly, that does not seem to accord with any other report, but it certainly does make it clear that the 'settlers' were entirely to blame for their own fate.

I'm angry, and I'm alienated. What is holy to me--a man's life, an ancient place of prayer--is merely a distraction to an ongoing campaign to delegitimize a nation and a people.

1 comment:

Jerusalem Tours said...

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