Prejudice: Is It So Bad?

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In this hysterical video, and this great follow-up video, the actors bring to light how quick we are, even when seeming to be liberal, to put people into entire categories of their interests based on the shape of their eyes or color of skin. Then again, the second video makes fun of the first and calls into question how mean the video is to the white guy. Lots of amusing mixed messages here that I urge you to study here. You will certainly see  yourself in one form or the other.

In many ways, the fun poked in this video could only make sense in a country of immigrants like America. It is still after all a grand experiment in putting dozens of ancestries together and saying, ‘here, make a coexisting democracy’. The experiment is still an awesome one and has implications for the future of a planet where diverse human families and clans are mixing as never before in history. 

What are the rules of this mixing? What is prejudice, and what is an innocent inquiry or question? How do you even begin to talk to strangers, and is there any way to inquire into backgrounds and origins without offending? Do we really want a bland set of conversations where out of politeness you never ask about family origins? 

Hans Gadamer, a complicated German philosopher, had an interesting approach. He believed that human knowledge is acquired through a complex interaction with what we think we know, from the past, for example, which he calls foreknowledge, or prejudice, and what we come to know through meeting with the other, with the stranger, with all that is new. This is completely oversimplified, but my take-away is simple. Foreknowledge of others, prejudice, assumptions based on someone being Arab or Jewish or Middle Eastern or Asian, is an essential part of how we organize a classify our complicated world–up to a point. 

The difference between destructive prejudice and constructive engagement with others is this: Is the mind opened or closed when engaging? Is the mouth respectful and thoughtful or arrogant? This a question of whether our reason is active enough to be ready to learn and change, as Gadamer hoped, and, additionally, do we have enough empathy to anticipate what is respectful comment or inquiry, and what is rude and arrogant. With an open mind and an open heart, all meetings can be a playful interaction of ignorance and learning. 

 

 

 

The Devil You Know is Always Better–Except That He Is Not

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Rational Americans are surprised that no one sees the danger of underestimating domestic right-wing terrorism by the general public. In this recent article, CNN rightly documents why this is so illogical and dangerous, why domestic terrorism is a far more significant threat. Yet no one is locking down major cities like Boston when such domestic terrorist events occur.

The answer to why Americans are like this is as simple as it is dangerous. We are always felled by the Devil we know, because he is one of us, and we are taught from childhood to trust ‘us’ and fear ‘them’. Depending on who has raised you, the categories of ‘them’ and ‘us’ will change. But everyone, as a normal part of human maturation, has an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, a safe world and a world that is unknown and possibly dangerous. But most domestic violence, most murder, will be by someone you know, as most terrorism is by someone who is likely to look like you. It is impossible to live with this knowledge and feel safe every day. So we do what we did as babies and then as children, and which our parents helped us to do: divide the world into the safe space that you know and the dangerous space that you do not. 

What is happening is that our natural protections against danger are fooling us. We are looking for a way to function normally and safely every day, but it makes us fear the outside world too much, and not have enough healthy criticism of our own people, our own community, our own religion, our own country. 

There are two simple antidotes to this problem: Reason and Empathy. Reason teaches us to look at facts and figures, more than emotional impressions of the world. Our eyes, emotions and cultural habits may move us to think that someone of a different color, race, or nationality is inherently more scary, but our brains can look at facts on violence and prove to us otherwise. Reason is not about just a good education. You can get the highest degrees and still not have your prejudices challenged. It is about a certain kind of knowledge and use of reason that can be taught if we as a society choose to. Secondly, empathy, through books, films, social media, and communications, expands vastly our sense of humanity, and of what it is realistic to fear, and what is fantasy, where the true dangers are, and where the true opportunities for safety are. We are simply smarter about danger when we know and come to understand a much greater diversity of people and places on this planet. 

Iraq: The Road to Chaos

Ned Parker, in the New York Review of Books, reminds us of the growing violence, corruption and authoritarianism that is unraveling Iraq. The damage that the US invasion of that country -- based on fraud and arrogance -- has done, to them and to us (strategically, morally, financially, and of course in terms of a damaged and blighted generation of Iraqis) can still stagger sometimes. 

Now, as Iraq prepares for its first national election in four years on April 30, it is hard to imagine democracy activists rallying weekly in Iraqi streets. For months, suicide bombers have been dynamiting themselves in crowded Shiite markets, coffee shops, and funeral tents, while Shiite militias and government security forces have terrorized Sunni communities. The Iraqi state is breaking apart again: from the west in Anbar province, where after weeks of anarchic violence more than 380,000 people have fled their homes; to the east in Diyala province, where tit-for-tat sectarian killings are rampant; to the north in Mosul, where al-Qaeda-linked militants control large swathes of territory; to the south in Basra, home to Iraq’s oil riches, where Shiite militias are once more ascendant; to Iraq’s Kurds, who warn that the country is disintegrating and contemplate full independence from Baghdad.

 

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Thousands starving on outskirts of Damascus; situation ‘unprecedented in living memory,’ U.N. says

Starvation in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee neighborhood in Damascus. Enough to make you hate the world and yourself. 

And then, 12 days ago, after the Syrian authorities cut off food shipments into the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk, everything became more dire. More than 48 hours have now passed since the United Nations says food ran out for nearly 20,000 people dependent on aid in Yarmouk, which has suffered some of the worst fighting in the Syrian war. Today the community, which sits on the outskirts of Damascus, is little more than a warren of bombed-out buildings long on rubble and short on everything else.

 

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What to do about Syria

This thought-provoking, morally challenging piece by Scott Long -- on what the Western left can actually do about Syria -- is worth reading it is entirety. 

It’s painful for leftists to come to terms with a case where “solidarity” is difficult, where there aren’t easily intelligible solutions, and where any action risks making the unbearable worse. The proposition that there are limits to what you can do is intolerable to Westerners. The more this is brought home to you, the more you fall back on believing that “expressing solidarity” is action, that there is a magical power in the very intensity of one’s moral agonizing that must, inevitably, find a pliant answer in reality, must bend politics to its will.

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Feeling Happy in the Middle East

Given all the unhappiness, it is refreshing to find a little happiness in the Middle East, even if it is musical. Enjoy the following:

Happy in Yemen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JzNxo5m8vI)

Happy in Abu Dhabi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=audy0aHjdyg)

Happy in Algeria (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr3-6H6P6Ng)

Happy in Egypt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D5dO5cn1PQ)

Happy In Kuwait (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQzDDg2poOc)

Happy in Jerusalem (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oszKeU7lEs)

Happy in Jordan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyXGv-7b_xo)

Happy in Lebanon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RqSFiVUhDw)

Happy from Morocco (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnuNA8HkVp0)

Happy in Qatar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8N5TkduFjA)

Happy from Saudi Arabia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKi4iAl_qb0)

Happy in Turkey (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a12vAtzbe68)

Links 28 March – 21 April 2014

Ahmed Mansour interviews Youssef Nada

MB-watchers may be interested in Al Jazeera's Ahmed Mansour interviewing, in two parts, Muslim Brotherhood financier Youssef Nada. Not exactly a hostile interview considering Mansour's pro-MB leanings, but some interesting tidbits including on Nada's role in the MB, his views of Saudi Arabia ("how can entire people be named after one family?") and Sisi (his followers are "slaves").

Part two of the interview here.

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Forgiveness as a rational necessity: My outsider’s take on Easter

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As we end this Passover/Easter time, I am struck and impressed by the emphasis Christian friends have placed on their tradition’s understanding of Jesus having said, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Frankly, that resonates with me for two reasons. One, it is good science. Everything we know today about groupthink, war crimes, the authoritarian personality, the origins of genocide and state crimes says to me that most people don’t know what the hell they are doing as citizens, and they end up hurting a lot of people without even knowing it. I am astonished at the collective narcissistic personality disorder of most enemy groups I work with, deeply obsessed with the pain of those they love, and clueless about the rest. So those words resonate: we have to forgive ourselves because we are pretty stupid when it comes to the big crimes we have all committed against each other. Second, “Forgive because it will make you feel good,” that strange new age tonic, never went down with me at all. I don’t feel good when I forgive, not at all. I forgive World War II Germany not to feel good, but because science has taught me that we are all Germans, we are all saints and criminals, and most of the time we don’t even realize the crimes we are committing. The only answer is forgiveness, compassion, and teaching a more enlightened path out of all of our traditions, secular and and religious.

Unravelling culture in Iraq’s Kurdish region


It is getting harder for Iraqi-Kurdish vendors to find stock of genuine Kurdish handicrafts [Lara Fatah/Al Jazeera]

by Lara Fatah, Al Jazeera, April 20, 2014

Erbil, Iraq - In the heart of the ancient city of Erbil, capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, stands the Erbil citadel, or Qalat, as it is known locally. A walk along the city walls, which are currently under restoration, brings people to one of the region’s gems: the Kurdish Textile Museum.

It is here that the lost art of weaving and handicrafts is being re-taught. Shereen Fars Hussan, one of 40 women trained in weaving at the museum since 2009, sits quietly in the building’s cool upper interior as her colleagues chatter with pride at having learned these traditional skills.

Hussan, 30, remembers how she used to watch her grandmother weave carpets and kilims (tapestry-woven carpets). “She would tell us stories about the old ways of life in Kurdistan, how she would weave carpets with the patterns that her own grandmother and mother had taught her from childhood, but war and genocide meant that she couldn’t pass on the skills to my mother and me,” Hussan told Al Jazeera.

VIDEO: Kulajo - My heart is darkened (more…)

In Egypt, a corruption watchdog hit by backlash

Detailed article about the corruption investigations that Hesham Genena, head of the Central Auditing Office, has been trying to pursue -- and the judicial and media backlash against him.

In one case, Genena told AP, investigations revealed that some $3 billion dollars was misappropriated in land deals by officials from the police, intelligence agencies, the judiciary and prosecutors.

In another, he reopened a 3-year-old case over allegations that members of an advisory board for the state national communications regulator - which included the justice minister at the time - had received some $14 million in financial compensation.

What is unprecedented in Genena's move is his willingness to investigate so-called "sovereign agencies," the term referring to the most important and unquestionable arms of the state, such as the police, intelligence, judiciary and the presidency. He has been empowered by the constitution passed this year, which encourages the fight against corruption and supervision of state bodies.

There may be limits, however.

Notably, Genena has not made allegations against the most powerful state body of all, the military. The military took the unheard-of step of allowing the CAO under Genena to review the accounts of its extensive business holdings. Speaking to the AP, Genena said that his review had found no violations in the military's books.

His other moves have brought a heavy backlash. The former justice minister, who left office in a recent Cabinet reshuffle, accused Genena of insulting him, prompting prosecutors in February to refer Genena to trial.

After Genena publicly criticized the Judges Club, an association of judges, for not allowing its employees to be inspected, the head of the club accused him of insulting the judiciary, prompting another trial for Genena, which holds its next session next week.

If convicted in either case, it could fuel a drive by his opponents to impeach him.

In the media, a chorus of government supporters accuse him of sympathizing with the Brotherhood, which was branded by the government as a terrorist organization since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer.

Prominent pro-military journalist and former lawmaker Mostafa Bakry said Genena was spreading "lies" tantamount to "blatant incitement against state institutions for the benefit of the Brotherhood."

Ahmed Moussa, a TV presenter known with strong ties to security establishment, said Genena's allegations "sabotaged the economy."

 

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Tabsir Redux: This is not an Easter Egg

Christians around the world celebrate Easter with thoughts of the empty tomb and resurrection of Christ. But there is more. Weather permitting, children are let loose in their Sunday best to hunt for Easter eggs, adding a secular, healthy, dietary blessing to the baskets of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans waiting at home. Even the White House lawn is set for the annual Easter Egg Roll (minus the Christian Rock) on Monday. It is as though many Christians are not content to leave the tomb empty. Apparently egged on by the spring fever of long forgotten fertility rites, the main message of Christianity gets sidetracked to a debate of anything but intellectual designing: which comes first, the Easter egg or the Easter bunny?

Eggs are not the exclusive mystical domain of Christendom (although the ludicrous lengths taken to parade a sacred holiday into outrageous bonnets and Texas-shaped eggs suggest we have entered the dispensation of Christendumb). Secular folk and agnostics eat their eggs for breakfast with bacon, toast and diner coffee. But all God’s children like eggs, including Muslims with internet savy and a taste for the miraculous. Take a gander (but do not confuse his spouse’s eggs with those shown here) at the three eggs shown below. What do you see different in the middle egg than the ones on either side (hint: the left is from the 2007 White House State of the Union Eggroll and the right is from 2006 Easter Sunday):
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How one Palestinian citizen challenged Israel’s ‘enemy state’ policy

By Salah Mohsen

Majd Kayyal’s right to travel and participate in a conference in Beirut is far more important than his right to fulfill his role as a journalist. That right belongs to him as a human being, an Arab and a Palestinian who has absorbed the cultural richness of Lebanon’s capital.

The release of Majd Kayyal, journalist and web editor at Adalah, after five days of detention and complete isolation from the outside world – without the right to meet with an attorney or have his case heard due to a sweeping gag order – proves that his detention by Israeli security authorities was a retaliatory act meant to deter other Palestinian citizens of Israel from traveling to Lebanon. It had nothing to do with investigative purposes. Even the attempt to falsely charge Majd with contacting a foreign agent was designed to intimidate and divert any discussion on the right of Palestinians to have relations and professional ties with Lebanon.The main problem is not that Majd Kayyal went to Lebanon. The problem is the law that prevents and criminalizes him for it. Israel’s definition of Lebanon as an “enemy state” does not make it so for Palestinian citizens. We refuse to see “As-Safir” or other Lebanese newspapers as hostile. We also do not see the need to find out if every journalist we speak to belongs to a particular political organization before we agree to exchange a word with them.

Majd is one of 100 young journalists from across the Arab world that write for “As-Safir al-Arabi,” the magazine section of the newspaper that aims to foster a new generation of Arab journalists. They publish articles and in-depth analyses on the political and social issues facing the countries and societies in which they live. It is a great privilege to be among those writers, and it is an especially great opportunity for Majd – one that a Palestinian citizen of Israel cannot obtain in places other than in so-called “enemy states.”

מגד-כיאל

Majd Kayyal. Beirut is part of the cultural, political and intellectual complexity that exists within and every Arab in the world

The comparison between Majd and other Israeli journalists who traveled to “enemy states” and were not detained upon their return is an important one to highlight. It proves the real intention behind his arrest, which has no connection to issues of security. But we should also qualify this comparison. Even if Israeli journalists did not travel to these countries, and even if they were detained and interrogated upon their return, it should not detract from the right of Palestinian Arabs to visit Lebanon. We are not reinventing the wheel by stating this: international law clearly enshrines the right of national minorities to communicate with and nurture their relationship with members of their nation, even those outside the borders of their state.

For me, Majd’s right to travel and participate in a conference in Beirut is far more important than his right to freedom of occupation and the fulfillment of his role as a journalist. That right is much more fundamental. It should be guaranteed to him regardless of him being a daring and bright journalist. That right belongs to him as a human being, an Arab and a Palestinian who absorbed the cultural richness that Beirut generously provided and continues to provide us.

Beirut is part of the cultural, political and intellectual complexity that exists within Majd and every Palestinian and Arab in the world. Beirut’s part in developing our cultural and political identity is far greater and deeper than that of Tel Aviv. Even if it seems obvious, it is important to state that, in my eyes, Fairuz is more important than Shlomo Artzi, and Constantin Zureiq is more important than Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber. The ethnic divisions in Lebanon influence the social fabric of Nazareth more than the struggles between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim in Israel. Whoever ignores this fact will never be able to understand the formation and development of our cultural and national identities, nor the complex reality in which they exist.

It seems that Majd has begun an important struggle that we must continue in order to remove the arbitrary and absurd laws that prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from visiting and maintaining their ties to the Arab world.

And for that I say: Thank you Majd, thank you Beirut.

Salah Mohsen is the Media Director at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

This article first appeared in Hebrew on Haokets.


Filed under: Media, Politics Tagged: Arab media, Arab states, Enemy States, Majd Kayyal, palestinians, Salah Mohsen

Tabsir Redux: The Last American, #1

There was a time when “Oriental Tales” were the rage of the age. Montesquieu penned Lettres Persanes in 1721 and Oliver Goldsmith followed up several decades later with The Citizen of the World. But I recently came across a late 19th century text about a future visit of a Persian Prince and Admiral to the ruins of a land known as Mehrica. This is The Last American and purports to be the journal of Khan-Li, a rather bizarre name for a Persian but so thoroughly Orientalist in mode. The admiral visits America in 1990 ( a century after the book was written), when American is in ruins, following the massacre of the Protestants in 1907 and the overthrow of the Murfey dynasty in 1930. But let the introduction to the text set up the marvels…

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A rolling stone of holiness, rage and revenge

By Yizhar Be’er (Translated from Hebrew by Michal Wertheimer Shimoni)

On Purim of 1994, Dr. Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs – a tragedy that sparked a chain of events that has, more than any other act, shaped the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the last 20 years. But we could point to a much earlier start of this story: an Arab doctor who will never forget the Jewish physician who saved his life, and convict No. 397, serving a life sentence.

The massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Purim (February 25, 1994), 20 years ago, was a decisive moment in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which brought on a wave of suicide attacks inside Israel, and led eventually to the creation of the murderous impulse in Igal Amir, who then assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. Until then, there had been an internal discussion going on among the Shari’a Wise Men, about suicide attacks against civilians within Israel’s borders, and they had refrained from sending them into Israel. The way suicide in Islam is treated by individuals depends on the Shari’as adjudicators, who, in turn, rely on the Quran. On the one hand, the Quran negated suicide (“and you shall not throw yourself to destruction”), as opposed to the more positive approach to suicide reflected in the idea of the shahid (martyr), who dies fighting against Islam’s enemies.

As we can see from history, the Muslim suicide terrorist was not born in the 20th century. Many myths are connected to the Hashashashins, the first Muslim suicide attackers of the 12th century. Some factions of modern Islam have taken on suicide attacks as an effective mode of combating enemies even before the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre. (Suffice is to mention the horrible suicide attacks of Hezbollah against American, French and IDF troops in Lebanon, which led in effect to their expulsion from the land). Nevertheless, the use of suicide attacks targeted at civilians was debated among Palestinians, and for various reasons Hamas did not send them into the Israeli population until the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs. For them, the massacre was the crossing of a line because of the attack against civilians, especially in a sacred place during prayer.

The first Palestinian Intifada started with strikes, tax boycotting, pamphlet spreading and stone throwing, and then escalated to knifing attacks after the Temple Mount massacre on October 8, 1990, in which 24 Palestinians were killed by Israeli policemen. From the signing of the Oslo agreements on September 13, 1993, and up until the massacre Goldstein carried out on February 25, 1994, 22 Israelis were killed, 10 of them within the Green Line. This number is close to the sum of Israeli victims during most of the first Intifada. During this period, Hamas was still avoiding using suicide terror attacks within Israel. The Hebron massacre changed the rules, when Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood ideological leader, and one of the most respected Islamic rulers, Yusuf Kardawi, published a fatwa (Muslim law ruling) justifying suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. He was also the first to allow Palestinian women to commit suicide attacks.

Right after the massacre, Hamas published an announcement, signed by the military branch of the organization, threatening to carry out five major attacks as revenge against the massacre. According to Islam, the first memorial day for the dead occurs 40 days after they die. Indeed, the first suicide attack within the Green Line was in Afula, on April 6, 1994, exactly 40 days after the massacre in the Cave of the Patriarchs (eight Israelis killed). The second revenge attack occurred a week later, on a bus in Hadera. Both attacks happened while IDF was still present in all of the Palestinian cities and before Arafat and his men arrived there as part of the Oslo agreements. After that there were attacks on bus number 5, in Tel Aviv, in Beit Lid, in Ramat Gan and in Jerusalem.

Baruch Goldstein's grave. A close connection between the deadly provocation of right-wing extremist from Hebron and the dramatic escalation in violence by the Hamas. (Photo by Meged Gozani/Activetills.org)

Baruch Goldstein’s grave. A close connection between the deadly provocation of right-wing extremist from Hebron and the dramatic escalation in violence by the Hamas. (Photo by Meged Gozani/Activetills.org)

Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, after 78 Israelis were murdered during the wave of suicide attacks that started after the Hebron massacre. Yigal Amir testified during his police investigation that he was heavily influenced by the book Baruch the Man, and from the personality of the man who committed the massacre. He also said that he wouldn’t have committed the murder had he not felt supported by the rabbis and public opinion. As his widower said in an interview to the Yedioth Aharonoth daily (March 3, 1994), Goldstein acted with the intention to hinder the Oslo agreement. “Baruch is not a psychopath. He knew exactly what he was doing. He planned to do it in order to stop the peace talks.”

The black stone

The story of the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre began a bit earlier. In as much as it has a beginning, it can be told starting one day in October of 1990. It was a day that started out peacefully, only to deteriorate into a cycle of death and revenge, mixing up the different factions fighting the mythological battle over the land in a strange blend. At the end of that year Mikhail Gorbachev was elected president of the USSR and started dismantling the Soviet Union. Here in Israel,Yitzhak Shamir put together a new government after dismantling Peres’ “dirty trick.” The First Intifada, entering its third year, was still a popular unarmed uprising, mostly comprising of stone throwing, pamphlet distribution, strikes and tax boycotting. It would all change as a small group of “Temple Advocates”, lead by Gershon Salomon, announced its intention to drag a stone onto the temple mount, meant to be the corner stone of the third temple.

This tragic story begins with that mythological stone, a divine particle of sorts, intended to show who’s hand rules this land. This stone rolled into one of the most explosive places on earth and started a revenge cycle that influenced many lives and to a large extent changed the nature of the conflict.

A Jewish group called "Temple Mount and Land of Israel faithful movement" walks through Jerusalem on 21.05.2009. They are followed by a truck which carried stones to be "the cornerstones of the Third temple.” (Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Jewish group called “Temple Mount and Land of Israel faithful movement” walks through Jerusalem on 21.05.2009. They are followed by a truck which carried stones to be “the cornerstones of the Third temple.” (Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Like every year ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when the ceremony of moving the stone would take place, in 1990 the police did not allow Salomon’s friends into the Old City of Jerusalem and redirected them to the Shiloah spring water source in Silwan, which would become “The City of David” a few years later. However, the Muslim citizens’ concerns were not quieted and so on the morning of October 8, over 3,000 of them assembled at the Temple Mount. The Mu’azin of Al Aqsa talked about the necessity of protecting Jerusalem’s Muslim character, as well as the mosques. A few dozen policemen spread out on the Temple Mount, but nothing extraordinary happened. Things were under control and police commanders Rahamim Comfort and Aryeh Bibi did not even bother showing up – which cost them their jobs later on.

At 10:30, however, a coincidence of sorts took place, one which changed everything. A moment of carelessness made a policeman drop a tear-gas grenade from his hands, which rolled over towards a group of women and ignited the scene. The Palestinians there started throwing stones and everything possible at the policemen, aiming at the Temple Mount plaza and Ofel Street, east of it. The deputy of the Mufti, Elgamal Al-Rifai’s attempts to deescalate the situation did not succeed and the Muslim protesters attacked the policemen and drove them away through the Mughrabi Gate. Then they turned and attacked the police outpost of the Mahkama, which was only manned by the duty officer. They hit him and burned down the station. Out of fear for his life and shame about the retreat of their men, large numbers of police furiously broke into the Temple Mount using live fire. The results of that day were 24 Palestinian dead and some 200 wounded. No one was killed on the Israeli side and 20 policemen were injured.

Abu Sirkhan

A few days later, under the influence of these events, Amar Abu Sirkhan, an 18-and-a-half-year-old plasterer, woke up at 5:30 in the morning at his parents’ house in the Abadia neighborhood, near Bethlehem, and decided to go on a revenge spree in Jewish Jerusalem. To his police interrogators he said: “My final decision to take revenge was made because of what happened on the Temple Mount. I was thinking about it for a whole week and I knew I was coming to spill the blood today.” Abu Sirkhan left his house at 6 a.m., hiding a long and narrow-bladed combat knife in his clothes. A Palestinian bus dropped him on Hebron Road, not far from the building site where he worked. His employers told the police that he was a normal and diligent worker. “Nothing in his behavior gave away his plot,” they told police.

Amar Abu Sirkhan. A revenge killing spree.

Amar Abu Sirkhan. A revenge killing spree.

He walked along the inner roads Jerusalem’s Baq’a neighborhood to Ya’ir Street, where he came upon Iris Azulai, a soldier on her way to her army base. The neighbors remember a blood curdling scream of a girl, at 10 minutes to 7 a.m., and then a flood of dog barks. The neighbor, Tzipi Kleiner, repeated her words: “Help! He’s stabbing me!” Hearing the screams, the neighbors came out of their homes. Micky Stark and his wife, both of them physicians, he the CEO of Misgav Ladakh Hospital, as well as Dr. Yitzhak Vinograd, head of the surgical department at Assaf Harofe Hospital, tried in vain to save Iris’ life. Juliette, her mother, lost control when she saw her daughter dying and attacked the policemen who arrived before the ambulances. At the same time, Abu Sirkhan was running along Barak Street, where he came upon Amikam Kovner, a 13 year old boy, but the dogs that attacked him saved the boy’s life. Abu Sirkhan ran a further 200 meters, where he met his next victim, Eli Alterz who was an artist and owned a nursery, holding potted plants in his hands. He stabbed him at least 10 times. The policemen who found him lying in a large pool of blood could only cover his face.

A special forces officer called Charlie Shlush who heard what was happening took his gun and ran towards the stabber. The neighbors testified later that he yelled three times “Stop! I don’t want to kill you!” But Abu Sirkhan was in an panic attack and did not stop. Shlush shot him twice in the legs and tried to grab his shoulders and bring him down but Abu Sirkhan, who was big and heavy managed to stab Shlush once. The two men continued to wrestle each other until Shlush collapsed dead on top of Abu Sirkhan. His wife, heavily pregnant, ran over and saw her husband’s corpse. “That’s the end, I’m dying,” she was later quoted as saying by Yedioth Aharonoth. The neighbors said that they took the opportunity to kick-in Abu Sirkhan’s face until the police arrived.

Next day the New York Times reported from Jerusalem about a Palestinian running amok in the quiet Jewish neighborhood, stabbing to death with a 15-inch knife an unarmed soldier, a gardener and a policeman who tried to stop him. The newspaper linked the stabbing to the killing of Palestinians by the police two weeks beforehand at the Temple Mount. Amar Abu Sirkhan was tried in a military court on three counts of murder and given to three life sentences. His family’s home in Abadia was demolished.

Shlush

Two months after the stabbing in Bak’a, On December 27, the newspapers ran a brief report about another violent event in the occupied territories. An unknown man opened fire on a Palestinian family’s car in Gush Etzion near Bethlehem, badly wounding the travelers – Dr. Faisal Amro, a physician from Hebron, His sister Ibtisam and her daughter Aya.

A group of extremist settlers going by the name of “the Zionist avengers” claimed responsibility for the event. This caused a public uproar. Left-wing spokespeople feared the establishment of a new Jewish underground, only five years after the exposure of the Jewish underground of the 1980s, and after most of it’s tried and convicted members had been pardoned and released from jail. Member of Knesset Haim Ramon claimed that: “the forgiveness and support which the underground members received after being released from jail is a source of inspiration which will increase the danger of new terror organizations, and should be firmly suppressed, or else they will cause the ‘Lebanonization’ of Israel.” Member of Knesset Yossi Sarid named all those who participated in the release of the underground murderers as responsible for the assassination and called for self-examination. Later on, however, findings pointed toward a lone shooter seeking revenge, and not toward a new underground. Military police found out that Arye Shlus, brother of Charlie Shlush, who was stabbed by Abu Sirkhan at Bak’a, served at the Gush Etzion military base near Bethlehem. When the investigators came to the base, they found him crying in his room. He immediately confessed that he had shot the Arabs as revenge for his brother’s death. Policemen testified that all along he cooperated with them and behaved calmly.

A probation officer described Arye Shlus as a quiet, humble and good hearted boy, who was destabilized by the death of his revered brother. The tragic event haunted him, and he desperately asked his commanding officers to be transferred from the occupied territories for fear of not being able to control his urge to hurt Arabs. His requests were denied. Two months after his brother’s death, he succumbed to this urge.

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Unlike his brother’s stabber who was tried before a military court, Arye Shlush was tried before a civilian court, despite his being a soldier. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. “The circumstances of this case are absolutely tragic,” Judge Meir Shamgar, president of the Supreme Court, wrote dryly when giving the background to his verdict at the appeal requested by his attorneys. He describes in detail the sequence of events: how Shlush approached his commanders, verbally and in writing, asking to transfer him. Doing so as he feared he would not be able to control the rage and urge to seek revenge, which was welling up inside him. Only after the event, and following Shlush’s appeal to the military ombudsman, there was an investigation conducted, and a lieutenant-colonel was reprimanded for not taking proper care of his request to be relieved from serving in the occupied territories.

Although it was determined that Arye Shlush was a normative soldier, and despite the fact that his behavior up until the attack as well as after he was convicted and sent to jail were impeccable, his request to shorten his sentence was denied. “We could not reduce his sentence. The appellant’s deed, stemming from a wish to hurt others because of their national identity, hurt three innocent people and miraculously did not end in tragedy,” wrote Shamgar.

Dr. Amro

I first met Dr. Faisal Amro in Hebron by chance. When we sat together his leg was accidentally exposed and I saw a huge scary indentation in it. “Shu ya’ani?” I wondered. He told me how he drove on that fateful night of December 12, 1990 to the Bethlehem hospital with his wife who was about to give birth, and how he drove back to Hebron after midnight with his sister Ibtisam and her nine-month-old daughter. And how soldier Arye Shlush had waited and then shot and nearly killed them and only a coincidence saved their lives. He also told me about the Jewish physician who saved his life.

Dr. Faisal Amro. What shall be done with a corpse of an Arab from Hebron in the middle of the night? (Photo by Izhar Be'er)

Dr. Faisal Amro. What shall be done with a corpse of an Arab from Hebron in the middle of the night? (Photo by Izhar Be’er)

At the Gush Etzion junction an armed soldier wearing a kippa stopped them, he told me, “when I slowed down he started shooting at us”. Ibtisam was wounded and screaming. “I opened the door and went over to help her. “I’m a doctor! I’m a doctor!” I yelled in Hebrew toward the shooter, but to no avail. The soldier shot him again and again.14 shots in all parts of his body. His sister said that the shooter yelled to her that both she and her brother should die, while she tried to stop the bleeding from her brother’s chest and begged him to stop shooting.

“We were all hurt but I was the most severely injured,” he told me. “As a physician, I understood my situation. I knew I was finished. I told my sister to turn me towards Mecca.” Dr. David Micha’eli, the Jewish physician who came in the ambulance from Gush Etzion, saw that the wounded man was in dire condition and that he had lost a lot of blood. “I was mostly conscious,” said Amro. The last thing he remembers telling Dr. Micha’eli was, “I’m dying!” Indeed, he died. Or so the physician said on the way to Hadassa Hospital in Jerusalem, when he discovered that there was no pulse.

But what are they supposed to do in Hadassa with the body of a deceased man from Hebron? Dr. Micha’eli told the ambulance driver to turn around and drive to Hebron in order to transfer the body at the military governor’s. In the middle of the way they came across another ambulance that had been called from Kiryat Arba. The two ambulances, coming from opposite directions, stopped next to each other. “You’re late!” said the Gush Etzion physician to his colleague from Kiryat Arba. The colleague suggested they use the blood he had with him to try and revive the body. A blood infusion was quickly set up for the deceased, blows and pumping were given to his chest, and the pulse returned. Once more the driver was asked to change his direction and return to Hadassa. From his miraculous awakening in the emergency room after 36 hours, Dr. Amro remembers the monitor’s hum. “I blinked hard with my eyes, so that the nurse will notice that I’m alive.” His leg was black and he asked the doctors to amputate it. It took the blood vessel specialist a great effort to convince him to wait. The leg was saved. After three months of rehabilitation and an endless stream of visitors, including a few heads of state (Amro remembers Ezer Weizman, Yitzhak Mordechai, Shaike Erez and quite a few members of Knesset visiting), Faisal Amro returned to his home in Hebron, scarred and full of holes, but alive.

“Who was the physician that saved you?” I ask. “Dr. Baruch Goldstein,” he says embarrassedly. “So they tell me,” he says, trying to correct himself later. Dr. Faisal Amro knows very well, better than any other child in Hebron, who Dr. Goldstein is. The Jewish physician who murdered 29 Muslims at prayer time a week before Ramadan, on Purim of 1994. After a long silence I ask him: “And what do you think of your savior today?” Dr. Amro does not think long: “Kalb ibn-kalb!”

Dr. Goldstein

At the Shiv’a ceremony after the Bak’a murder attack, Iris Azulay’s father lamented: “my daughter, that innocent flower, is gone, a victim. What scares me is that this vile person who stabbed and killed her and is sitting in jail now will be released in some future exchange deal of terrorists for POWs.” He said that without knowing his prophecy would come true 21 years later. The stabbing attack and the killing of Charlie Shlush, who tried to avoid killing his attacker, shocked the land. The Likud party tried to use the public furor following the event and promote a law that would pardon all the soldiers who were involved in illegal deeds at the beginning of the First Intifada. MK Rivlin said at the time that the criticism against the IDF following the verdicts in the Givati trials (for breaking Palestinians’ bones), and the depression felt by many in the IDF required putting an end to criticism against it. Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan demanded that whoever is caught carrying cold weapons be deported with his family to Lebanon. “We will not shoot them in the head because that is to extreme, but they need to be deported immediately,” he said. On the other hand, Tedy Kolleck, Jerusalem’s mythological mayor said that security will return to Jerusalem only when peace negotiations start. The head military prosecutor, Brig.Gen. Amnon Streshnov said in an interview to the military’s BaMakhane magazine that there is no doubt that if Charlie Shlush had shot to kill the stabber in Jerusalem, he would be considered acting in self defense and would not be put on trial.

In October of 2011 I was invited to be part of a panel at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, dealing with terror and human rights. I shared with my listeners, who were high-ranking IDF officers, this tragic story. One of the panel’s members, a former Border Police commander jumped and said that Charlie Shlush was a subordinate of his, a good man and a terrific fighter who was on his way to officers course. He said that although the stabbing was very light, it had hit a blood vessel and as a result killed him. Another officer added that Arye, Shlush’s brother, was a close friend of his during their service. “Shortly after Charlie died, a friend of ours was severely wounded. The coincidence was too much for him and he went on his revenge spree.”

A few days after that panel meeting at the Rabin Center, Israeli POW Gil’ad Shalit was released in return for 1027 Palestinian prisoners. Among them was also life-long prisoner no. 397, Amar Abu Sirkhan, who killed soldier Iris Azulay, gardener Eli Alterz and policeman Charlie Shlush. He was not permitted to go back to Abadia and was deported to Gaza.

Security forces, negatively influenced by The Bak’a stabbing and officer Charlie Shlush’s failure to stop the stabber by shooting at his legs, escalated their use of ammunition and weapons like 9mm bullets and rifles. Following this and other terror attacks, like the killing of a male and female soldier in Hebron, the saying, “better to have a bad lawyer than a good Hazan (traditional prayer singer for funerals),” became common.

Two years after his sentencing, Ariye Shlush, who shot at Dr. Amro, received a pardon from President Chaim Hertzog, nearly at the end of his term. Today he lives in Hosen, a village in western Galilee and runs a carpentry shop making kitchens. He refuses to talk about the event.

Dr. Faisl Amro, the Palestinian physician, continues to see patients in his private clinic in Hebron. He has six brothers and six sons, all of them physicians, too, living in the “Doctors’ quarter” in the south of the city. When I visited him recently at his clinic, he described his suffering after all these years. At some point he took his clothes off to show me where four bullets were still embedded under his skin. “I pull out shrapnel every day”’ he said, “They stop me at every Magnetometer because of all the metal in my body. I don’t wish upon friend or enemy to suffer what I have. I don’t talk about it, wishing not to sadden others. It’s a great tragedy. When people ask me I’m not interested to talk about it”.

His resurrection after being declared dead is nothing less than a miracle. “In the fluttering between life and death I saw my patients praying for me. Dr. Micha’eli asked me what have I done in this lifetime that God had gifted me my life back, and I answered: God only knows!”

He doesn’t want to talk about Goldstein either. “Leave it”, he says, “people tried to talk to me about it but I don’t want it to be used politically.”

Would you agree to meet Arye Shlush, who shot you?

“No!”, he says decisively, “What do we have in common? He’s the perpetrator and I’m the victim. He murdered three people in cold blood. That God had decided to bring me back has nothing to do with him.”

Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the extreme right-wing physician who treated Jews and Arabs, eventually succumbed to the unbearable emotional tension he had been in as a result of watching the reports of the terror attacks (especially affected by the murder of his close friends, the Lapid famaily, by Hamas fighting against the Oslo agreement). He went on a killing spree that ended his life at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Purim, 20 years ago.

Goldstein, the first Jewish shahid of modern time, managed single handedly to change the direction the Oslo process was leading towards. After the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre Hamas started mass murder attacks within Israel, and they eventually brought forth the murderer Yigal Amir. Goldstein’s grave in Qiryat Arba became a place of pilgrimage and he became a saint for a widening circle of Israelis. Ironically, one of his sons became an IDF combat pilot.

Epilogue

After the Temple Mount events in October of 1990, there was an inquiry committee set up, headed by Tzvi Zamir, which concluded that the Muslims were to blame for inciting the attack on Jewish worshipers and policemen. The committee justified the use of live ammunition in breaking into the Temple Mount because, as they said, lives were in danger. B’Tselem accused the Zamir Commission of a cover-up. Benjamin Netanyahu, then deputy foreign minister, however, instructed Israeli diplomats worldwide to use the Zamir report as proof of Israel’s righteousness.

A week after the Temple Mounts event Supreme Court Justice Ezra Kama was appointed to investigate the circumstances of the killing of Palestinians during the riots. In contrast to the Zamir report, Kama heard about 100 witnesses from both sides and held 20 meetings. He was critical of the police and determined that “at the break-in stage the forces got carried away and started shooting.” He negated what the Zamir Commission said about the chain of events at the beginning of the riots and determined, like the Wakf’s report before his, that the event started after a Border Patrol officer mistakenly dropped a tear gas grenade. He pointed out that the Muslims chose to ignore the police  announcement that they will prevent the ascent of the “Temple Mount trustees” to the Mount, but did not find evidence for incitement, written or vocal, as the Zamir Commission claimed. No knives and axes were prepared ahead of time, he declared.

The Temple Mount events in October of 1990 were a decisive moment in the history of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict. As a result the Intifada escalated and for the first time Palestinian were encouraged to move from stone throwing to the use of knives. The call for escalation was expressed by Hamas as well, who declared that any Jew is a good target. Indeed, in the following two months, Palestinians stabbed eight Israelis. During police interrogations, the attackers claimed they were avenging the victims of the Temple Mount event.

Former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Ami Ayalon said that this was the most important event that had happened in the occupied territories since 1967, as it was a major catalyst for the Intifada, to the switch from stones to knives and then to firearms. The event introduced powerful religious elements into the conflict, which was mostly nationalistic until then, and deeply and emotionally influenced both sides, he said. Following the horrific event on Temple Mount, police curtailed visits on the Mount by religious Jews. At first members of the Temple movements were completely banned from visiting, and later they were allowed to come in in pairs only, accompanied by a policeman. These limitations were relaxed over time (as we learned from the report released lately by Kehsev and Ir-Amim about the Temple Mount, “A Dangerous Connection“). In addition to Gershon Salomon’s weirdos there exist dozens of Temple organizations, some of which are funded by the state and politically supported by the ruling party in Israel. These modern zealots claim that nothing will deter them from the Great Plan of Redemption. The corner stone of the Temple, which sparked the cycle of violence and revenge started on October 1990, is still awaiting its divine opportunity to show who really rules the land.

Claiming that the Oslo proceedings brought on the suicide attacks purposely disrupts the historical chain of events. It is misleading and possibly false. The mass suicide attacks which started after the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, escalated after the killing of “the engineer” Yahya Ayyash, and again after Ariel Sharon came into power, after the peace process was stopped. During the two years of Ehud Barak’s premiership, 1999-2000, at the height of the political negotiations, not one Israeli citizen was killed in suicide attacks. In the first year after he was replaced by Sharon, 86 Israelis were killed and in the following year 225 people were killed.

Unlike what Israeli peace-opposing forces claim, it was not the Oslo agreements that brought about exploding buses; it is more accurate to say that it was the veto power of the extremists, unleashed by Baruch Goldstein. He was fed by the radical spirit of Messianic Judaism, which demonic joined forces with Islamic radicalism in a way, to end the peace process in a dance of blood and tears.

This article was first published in Hebrew on the Haokets website. 

Yizhar Be’er is a former journalist for Haaretz and former director of  B’Tselem who serves today as director of  Keshev, which monitors Israeli media coverage.


Filed under: Politics Tagged: Baruch Goldstein, Cave of the Patriarchs massacre, extreme right, Hebron, ibrahimi mosque massacre, Michal Wertheimer Shimoni, Purim, settlements, suicide bombing, terrorism, Yizhar Be’er