'Thou shalt destroy them utterly'
By Emad Gad
Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 13 - 19 January 2005, Issue No. 725
In the midst of declining tolerance and increasing extremism, the
Israeli press has been filled with articles appealing for greater
forbearance, writes Emad Gad finds out why
There is perhaps no greater threat to humanity these days than the spread of militancy and ideological extremism, which often takes the form of violence engulfing several regions of the world. The phenomenon is not specific to one faith, ideology, or group of people, but touches everyone.
In the midst of this climate, the Israeli press has recently been filled with articles attacking militancy and extremism and appealing for greater tolerance. One of the most notable is an article written by Shulamit Aloni. The former head of the leftist Meretz Party and a former Israeli education minister, Aloni is and was well-known for her hostility to extremist Jewish parties. Although she left public life, the recent campaign of incitement by Israeli rabbis against Arabs and Palestinians led her to write a courageous article, "Losing God's Image", published in Haaretz on 15 September.
Aloni writes, "The seven Noahide laws are universal, and apply to every person and every nation -- and even more so to the Jews who were specifically commanded: 'Thou shalt not murder.' The person who spills human blood undermines the image of God, 'for in the image of God made He man.'
"It turns out that power has turned the heads of the rabbis of Yesha (the settlements of Judea, Samaria and Gaza) and the rabbis of some of the hesder yeshivas which combine military service and Torah study. The occupying army, the greed and the ability to satisfy it, the ease with which one can dispossess the Palestinians of their land, turn their cities into holding pens, block the wells and caves of the shepherds on Mount Hebron, and in effect destroy the foundation of their existence -- all these have intensified disdain and arrogance, until they gave rise to a manifesto that as a 'halakhic decision' (made in accordance with Jewish religious law), permits -- in the course of an act of revenge against a terrorist or someone suspected of terrorism -- the murder of women, children, old people and ordinary citizens who, strangely enough, are human beings who were created in God's image, and who have, according to any law, a right to life.
"It's true that these rabbis are not the first to permit the murder of innocents. The late Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, in a comprehensive 'dissertation', philosophised after the murder of Arab villagers in Kibiya in 1953, and justified the killing that had embarrassed most Israelis and for which they tried to deny responsibility. In his opinion, a small Arab becomes a big Arab, and a mother can give birth to more little Arabs who will become big.
"The Yesha rabbis, who are busy making innovative halakhic decisions when it comes to what is not theirs, do not have the time for innovation when it comes to issues that benefit others. For example, the status and rights of women, or Israeli citizens who came here by dint of the Right of Return and who are being asked by everyone to change their religion as a condition for receiving full rights -- in spite of the fact that we have learned that 'a family that has become integrated is considered integrated, and that all families will be considered kosher in the future' (even Haezer).
"That was said regarding a mamzer [in Jewish law, a child born of a woman's relations with a man other than her husband, while the woman is still legally married, and who consequently is not allowed to marry another Jew], and is even more true of those who are not mamzerim, who are not bound by the law of 'what is distorted cannot be repaired.'
"Yes, in the name of God, they are allocating power to themselves in every area that is convenient for them and their followers. And instead of all the Biblical verses that vigilantly protect the rights of the stranger, because 'you were strangers in the land of Egypt,' they prefer to adopt the verse that relates to the seven nations of Canaan: 'Thou shalt destroy them utterly, thou shalt make no covenant with them nor show mercy on them' (in other words, don't enable to live alongside you, Deuteronomy 7:2); and the rabbis have already forbidden the rental or sale of an apartment to Arabs, and some have even ruled, in the name of the halakha, that one is permitted to expel them.
"The new halakhic ruling gives the army a free hand to bomb densely populated areas and to use lethal weapons without checking whether there are children or old people. Although as we know, the army didn't wait for the rabbis' permission, it is now receiving approval from those who speak in the name of the God of Israel. Although it should be mentioned that there are great rabbis who rule differently from those who grant permission to murder civilians, or who praise Baruch Goldstein (who massacred Muslims praying in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron), Yigal Amir (who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin), and the hilltop youths, and all the destroyers and murderers who wander about the occupied territories and sow destruction all around -- none of whom has been indicted.
"I recall the essay by the late Rabbi Israel Hess, the rabbi of Bar-Ilan University, who wrote in the university newspaper that 'we are all obligated to carry out genocide,' because he did research and discovered that the Palestinians are descendants of Amalek, the tribe that the Torah commands us to destroy (and that has become a symbol of evil for Jews). Rabbi Prof Emanuel Rackman, who was then president of the university, brought about his dismissal. It's no coincidence that in the settlements the Palestinians are called 'Amalek', and the intention is obvious to everyone.
"The new ruling, which determines that the blood of a Jew is redder than that of others, will not bring great honour to the Jewish people. It is a shame that at a time when the Jews are sovereign in their country, the rulers of the strongest country in the Middle East, the 'image of God' has become so worthless in the eyes of so many."
One Dan Yahav wrote a letter to Yediot Aharonot, published on 19 September, saying, "We often speak of 'Islamic militants', who show no concern for human life in their religious teachings and struggles. Now we, too, have among us 'Jewish militants'. Some rabbis -- a few of whom are considerate 'moderates' -- have signed a halakhic injunction allowing the Israeli army a free rein to strike innocent civilians. The followers of these rabbis will understand the instructions and do what the rabbis expect of them.
"Gradually, we are understanding the danger of the methods advocated by soldiers coming from yeshivas and religious soldiers who are students of these rabbis. All the statements these rabbis offer in justification are mere window-dressing: they are encouraging the murder of civilians. If we do not stop them and do not condemn their statements by all possible means, we will quickly sink to the level of Sodom and Gomorra."
We are in need of people who possess the courage of Aloni and Yahav, endowed with humanism that treats all people -- regardless of colour, race, religion, or sect -- as God's creatures. We need people to meet on purely humanistic grounds, moved by human emotions and whose mission is to establish the basis of a global humanist movement to spread tolerance and moderation and confront militancy, extremism and obscurantism. Such a movement would defend the rights of all people and the principle of equality, and it should be encouraged by Arab intellectuals and writers of all kinds.
To read more on this issue, please visit Arabs Against Discrimination