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Standing up for what is holy

By Michael Freund
9/22/2005, 12:00 AM

Barely a week and a half has passed since the destruction of Gaza's synagogues by rampaging Palestinian mobs, yet it seems as if the entire affair has already been largely forgotten.

The world hardly uttered more than a peep of protest, and Israel stood by and watched as Jewish houses of worship went up in flames.

Netzarim_synagogue In the article below that I contributed to the Jerusalem Post on the subject, I argue that it is incumbent upon Israel not to allow this outrage to go unpunished.

A dangerous precedent has been set, and it is essential that Israel stand up for what is holy, rather than cower helplessly as our heritage is mercilessly trampled upon by our enemies.

The Jerusalem Post, September 13, 2005

Take back the holy sites
by Michael Freund

The scenes from Gaza were as ghastly as they were predictable.

Energized by Israel's retreat, thousands of Palestinians wasted little time in descending on abandoned Jewish communities, torching yeshivot and bulldozing synagogues in a frenzy of hate and destruction.

Among those leading the charge was none other than Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who dismissed these places of Jewish prayer and study as "empty structures" and vowed that all such buildings would be destroyed.

Indeed, in the former Jewish community of Netzarim, Palestinian policemen chose not to intervene as rioters assaulted the synagogue, with one Palestinian officer telling a Western journalist: "The people have the right to do what they are doing."

Shortly thereafter the PA even dispatched a bulldozer to help the mob complete the demolition.

And so we were all treated to the bitter and painful irony of watching anti-Semitic mobs gleefully flattening synagogues as the Israeli army beat a hasty retreat.

But this is hardly the first time our government has stood by and watched as Palestinians desecrated a place held sacred by Jews.

Remember Joseph's Tomb?

It was just five years ago, on October 7, 2000, that the IDF withdrew from the site under cover of darkness after a joint assault launched by Palestinian police and terrorists. The PA, of course, then agreed to protect the Tomb, but that promise quickly went up in smoke. Several hours later the burial ground of the biblical Joseph had been reduced to debris.

Palestinians armed with pick-axes and hammers attacked the tomb, smashing the stone structure and ripping it apart, brick by brick. They burned Jewish prayer books and other religious articles and subsequently began transforming the site into a mosque.

It was then and there, at Joseph's Tomb, just days after the start of the second intifada, that the Palestinians learned two very dangerous lessons, which continue to haunt Israel until today.

First, they saw that violence pays. Israel's retreat from Joseph's Tomb was the first time Israel had fled under fire, abandoning territory to Palestinian control under threat of the gun.

Secondly, the Palestinians also learned that they could deliberately assault Jewish sites of immense historical, religious or emotional significance without fear of retribution from Israel.

After all, if they got away with an attack on Joseph's Tomb, why not take down a couple of abandoned synagogues in Gaza?

The same holds true of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where successive Israeli governments have failed to stand up to wanton Palestinian acts of desecration.

THEREIN LIES the "original sin" of various Israeli policymakers, who have consistently capitulated, retreated and withdrawn whenever the Palestinians have trampled on some of our most important national symbols. Instead of displaying some elementary Jewish pride and confronting the rioters to prevent them from torching what is holy to us, we prefer to shrug our collective shoulders, look away in shame, and hope for the best.

That may have made sense when the extent of our national power was limited to community councils in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, but surviving in the modern-day Middle East requires an entirely different approach.

For far too long we have inculcated in the Palestinians a sense of impunity when it comes to vandalizing or defiling Jewish holy sites, and it is time for this to change forthwith.

In light of the Palestinians' behavior in Gaza this week, it should be clear to all that they cannot, must not, be entrusted with safeguarding or administering Jewish religious sites under any circumstances whatsoever.

The Palestinians have once again failed to demonstrate even the modicum of decency and civility that calls for respecting houses of worship that belong to others.

And so Israel should not hesitate to do what should have been done already: take back Joseph's Tomb, reassert its sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and eject the PA-controlled Muslim Wakf from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

These three sites, more than any others, symbolize our ties to this Land, and the abiding faith upon which they are based. It is time for all of them to return to sole Israeli control.

Such a step would send a clear and unequivocal message to the Palestinians that there is a price to be paid for treading on Jewish religious rights and assaulting our holy sites. It would also underline Israel's determination to retain these sacred spaces in any future arrangements that might be reached.

There is a limit to what a nation can be expected to tolerate when its most hallowed places repeatedly come under attack.

Israel's patience reached that limit long ago. It is time we let the Palestinians know that their abuse of our heritage, and all we hold dear, will no longer be tolerated.