An Israeli worshipper was shot dead by Palestinian police forces early this morning. He and some fellow Breslov Hasidim had been praying at the site of Joseph’s tomb, a key site in the Jewish religion. The site is in Nablus, which was handed to the Palestinians as part of the Oslo Accords. It is therefore under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, whose policemen shot the Jews as they left, killing one and seriously injuring others.
It has been said that the group had not co-ordinated their visit to this sensitive area through the usual channels, even though this was during Passover, a time extra visits would be anticipated. For this, they paid a heavy price: one of them has been killed and others wounded. In the wake of the attack, some Palestinians set fire to Joseph’s tomb. I cannot conceive of a sentence that begins to express how horrific this is.
Contrast the situation there with the Old City of Jerusalem, where the Israeli authorities painstakingly protect the rights of all faiths to visit and pray at their places of worship in dignity and comfort. Indeed, Israel leaves the administration of the Temple Mount (a site of intense significance to both Judaism and Islam) to the Arab Waqf.
I visited the Temple Mount during my Once In A Lifetime trip to Israel last summer. It was the one part of the trip I did not enjoy. When we arrived, some charmless Arab security guards menacingly inspected the attire of the females in our group to check it was sufficiently modest. I’ve no problem with the principle which would equally have applied at Jewish holy sites, but the execution was unpleasant.
On the Mount itself there was litter floating about the place and a dark feeling. When I have stood at the Kotel (Western Wall) I have always been overwhelmed by a feeling of beauty, magic and light. On the Temple Mount I felt a similarly intense feeling, but one clouded in darkness. We were watched closely throughout our visit, as there is a rule that Jews (and indeed any non-Muslims) are not allowed to pray up there. So if you pause for a moment with a thoughtful look on your face, you immediately fall under suspicion.
Israel deserves enormous credit for the way it governs the Old City of Jerusalem, allowing all faiths to enjoy their holy sites. Were Israel to behave how the Palestinians did in Nablus today, one can only imagine the global outrage. Imagine for a moment that some Arabs were shot by Israelis as they left the site of the Dome of the Rock. Imagine that following this, some Israeli youths set fire to the Dome of the Rock. We would be talking about global outrage, possibly even talk of World War Three breaking out.
Yet when that chain of events happened in Nablus this morning it merited little coverage, condemnation or even reflection. My heart goes out to the family of Ben Yosef Livnat, who was killed there. May his memory be a blessing. I wish his injured friends a speedy and full recovery. Regular readers will know of my love of the stories and sayings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. All the Breslov Hasidim of any strand I’ve ever met have been wonderful, gentle and joy-inducing people. I hope that through the pain, shock and hurt they continue to bring light to the world.
And I hope that one day, Israel is given due credit for the way it so beautifully governs the Old City of Jerusalem, proving itself once more a moral example to the world.