I wouldn’t have imagined that 76 years after the Holocaust ended, I would be writing these words but here we go again. Last week, anti-Semites tried to burn Jews alive. And the world looked away.
Several hundred Jewish worshippers were on their way to hold peaceful, legal religious services on the holiday of Sukkot, at the tomb of the biblical patriarch Joseph, located in the city of Shechem. The city, better known by its Roman name, Nablus, had a sizeable Jewish community until Palestinian Arab rioters drove them out in the 1930s. Today’s generation of Palestinian Arab terrorists ambushed last week’s worshippers. The Palestinian Authority, which governs the city, did nothing to intervene.
The attackers hurled “homemade explosives”—that is, Molotov cocktails—at the buses of worshippers, hoping to set them on fire. If not for the heroic actions of Israeli soldiers, the buses would have turned into rolling infernos, and hundreds of Jews would have been burned alive. That was the terrorists’ intention. Yet the world looked away.
The moral outrage of an attempted massacre of Jews should have been sufficient to rouse the international community. But let’s put the moral considerations aside for a moment and just consider the legal implications.
The protection of Jewish worshippers is enshrined in the Oslo II agreement. The Palestinian Authority signed it. The PA has an obligation to abide by its terms. Israel fulfilled its side of the Oslo accords, by withdrawing from 40% of Judea-Samaria and allowing the PA to set up a de-facto state in that area. In return, the PA is required to fulfill its side of the deal, including the provisions applying to protection of Jewish worshippers.
You can find the relevant obligation in Annex I, Article V, Section 2, paragraph (b), under “Jewish Holy Sites.” It concerns Jewish religious sites that are located in PA-governed territory. And Appendix IV specifically lists “Joseph's Tomb (Nablus)” as one of those sites.
The agreement states that “the protection of these sites, as well as of persons visiting them, will be under the responsibility of the Palestinian Police.” The PA must “ensure free, unimpeded and secure access” to the site, and “ensure the peaceful use of such site, to prevent any potential instances of disorder and to respond to any incident.”
Since the PA has one of the largest per-capita security forces in the world, it would not have had any trouble preventing would-be murderers from attacking Jews at the site. That is, if the PA wanted to prevent them. But it doesn’t. In fact, the PA, through its anti-Jewish incitement in its mosques, media and schools, encourages Palestinian Arabs to aspire to kill Jews. Hence last week’s attempt to burn Jews alive.
You know what the international response would have been if the victims had thrown those firebombs right back at their attackers. The United Nations Security Council would have met in emergency session. The Biden administration would have expressed “grave concern at this escalation” and shouted louder for a “two-state solution.” Newspapers around the world would have reported “settlers attacking Palestinians.”
But there was no way to blame the Jews. So, the world looked away.
“They Looked Away” happens to be the title of a searing 2001 documentary by the historian-filmmaker Stuart Erdheim. Narrated by Mike Wallace, it chronicles how the Allies knew what was happening in Auschwitz yet refused to bomb the railway tracks that led into the camp, or the gas chambers and crematoria.
I am not comparing last week’s assault to the Holocaust. I am merely pointing out how once again, the world is indifferent when Jews are under attack. How long will it be before another filmmaker records how world leaders, in our own generation, looked away as anti-Semites tried to burn Jews alive?
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” and an oleh chadash.