February 20, 2008″For some time, the Palestinians have been waging a systematic and methodical campaign targeting some of Israel’s most-cherished symbols, from the unity of Jerusalem to the resting places of some of its Biblical forebears. This has included the desecration of Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), and the reopening of the Orient House in Jerusalem, which is aimed at undermining Israel’s sovereignty.
As I argue in the column below from the Jerusalem Post, if it is a war of symbols that the Palestinians want, then Israel should respond in kind, and send our foes a loud and clear message.” -Michael Freund
Another day, another affront. For all the talk of peace and reconciliation, the Palestinians seem to be keeping themselves quite busy these days by finding ways to undercut, undermine, and even insult Israel and its sovereignty.
On Monday, Israel Radio reported that Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority has chosen to defy the law, which bars it from operating in Jerusalem, by reopening the Orient House.
The century-old structure, which a decade ago came to embody our neighbors’ attempts to gain a political foothold in Israel’s capital, was closed down by the police in 2001 after it had become a hotbed of illicit Palestinian activity.
But now the Orient House is apparently playing host once again to official Palestinian functions, such as diplomatic meetings. As its Web site states, “the Orient House aspires to develop Arab East Jerusalem as the capital of the emerging Palestinian state.”
This is nothing less than a clear Palestinian slap in the face to the Israeli government, which only recently reaffirmed the ban on PA activity in Jerusalem, something to which the Palestinians themselves had agreed in the Oslo Accords.
More importantly, though, it is a slap in the face to the people of Israel, the overwhelming majority of whom cherish Jerusalem and are against re-dividing the Holy City.
And that is precisely why the Palestinians are doing it. They understand the power that symbols have to influence, shape and yes, even to alter reality.
Indeed, for years our foes have been methodically focusing on Israel’s icons, doing their utmost to tear them down – both literally and figuratively – as a means of advancing their agenda.
TAKE, FOR example, Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), the resting place of the Biblical figure revered in Jewish tradition as “Yosef HaTzaddik,” or “Joseph the righteous.”
It was nearly eight and a half years ago that a Palestinian mob seized control over the tomb, ransacking the Jewish holy site and setting it ablaze. Despite repeated promises to restore it over the years, the Palestinians wantonly desecrated it at will, dumping garbage on its grounds and periodically setting it on fire.
Last month, dozens of Knesset members from a broad range of parties wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demanding that Joseph’s Tomb be repaired. “The tombstone is completely shattered, and the holy site is desecrated in an appalling manner, the likes of which we have not seen in Israel or anywhere else in the world,” they wrote.
The premier duly conveyed the request to the Palestinians earlier this month, and their response was not long in coming: last week, they reportedly vandalized the tomb and set fire to it again.
This kind of outrage can not be allowed to pass quietly. It would be a grave error for Israel to ignore the Palestinians’ wanton attempts to assault the national symbols and collective heritage of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
And yet that is what our leaders seem only too happy to do. Time after time, they choose to ignore the Palestinian onslaught, which of course only invites still further abuse. Thus, the government has largely stood by and watched as the Palestinian-controlled Muslim Wakf digs up the Temple Mount in broad daylight and destroys priceless Jewish religious and archaeological relics.
There are other examples as well. Two months ago, Palestinians desecrated the tombs of the Biblical Joshua, his father Nun, and Caleb ben Yefuneh, all of which are located in the Samarian village of Kifel Haress, near Ariel.
The gravesites, which Jewish pilgrims have visited for centuries, were reportedly smeared with animal and human feces and covered with garbage. The vandals also painted Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic slogans on the holy sites.
Yet this disgraceful act was also allowed to pass unanswered.
It is time for Israel to stop looking the other way whenever the Palestinians assail everything we hold dear. If it is a war of symbols they want, then Israel should not hesitate to respond. A good place to start would be to tear down the Orient House in Jerusalem, raze the site, and close it once and for all.
Similarly, the Muslim Wakf must be held accountable for the damage that it causes to the Temple Mount, site of the ancient Jewish temple. If the Wakf is unwilling to cooperate, their authority can and should be taken away.
We simply can not afford to allow the Palestinians to continue to spit in our faces, and then call it rain.
Our foes understand well the importance of symbols. They realize that despite their name, symbols are not merely symbolic, but have substantive value too.
The question is, when will we?