Itongadol.- On Tuesday, several Israelis were shot and stabbed on a bus in Jerusalem, with three confirmed dead. Many others were left in a critical condition. When such horrific events occur, it is natural to try to make sense of them, and to ask: “Why did this happen?”
Jews are being killed simply for being Jews
My family has been asking this question for generations. I think back to the burning of my great-great grandparents’ house in 1929, during anti-Jewish riots in Hebron: 133 Jews were killed in one week by Arab rioters, as students were massacred in a yeshiva. These attacks did not take place in a vacuum. Local Arab media at the time published inflammatory articles, raging against the rights of Jews to pray at the site of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. A flier by the “Committee of Holy Warriors in Palestine” was distributed, claiming that Jews had violated the honour of Islam. The British government-backed Palestine Inquiry Commission concluded that there was “no excuse” for the spate of murders.
I think back to 1936, when the house of my great-grandparents in Jaffa was burned down by Arab rioters, forcing them to flee to Tel Aviv. I think back to 1939, when my father’s cousin was murdered, when he was aged just eight. Zalman Naeh was shot in his stomach by Arab terrorists while travelling on a bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem: he was the last Jewish victim of terror in British Mandate Palestine before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Why was he shot? What prompted all these acts of terror? Was it the Israeli “occupation” – which did not exist at the time? Was it the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though he was not yet born? Was it frustration about the peace process?
Or was it because little Zalman was a Jew, and how dare he sit on a bus? So tell me again, why were the people on the bus murdered yesterday morning?
The common factor in all these attacks down the decades is the presence of Jews in the land of Israel and their right of self-determination. That is at the root of the killings. Yet through all the years, this simple reason has been curiously overlooked. Even on November 29 1947, the very day that the United Nations voted in favour of the Partition Plan to create neighbouring Jewish and Arab states in British Mandate Palestine, shots were fired at an ambulance carrying my aunt – a Holocaust survivor – on her way to give birth to my cousin. Then, as now, the very presence of Jews in the land of Israel appeared to be the root cause of terrorist violence against them.
One myth in particular has shown itself evergreen: the idea that Jews are trying to undermine Islam and its holy sites in Jerusalem. We have heard the lie that “Al Aqsa is in danger” since the 1920s, when the Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini tried to stir up local rioters against Jews, inciting them to murder. Husseini would distribute pamphlets saying: “O Arabs! Do not forget that the Jew is your worst enemy and has been the enemy of your forefathers.”
Last month, President Abbas called on Jews not to put their “filthy feet” on the Temple Mount, again inciting anti-Jewish violence. Yet when Palestinian activists use this revered holy site as a temporary base from which to attack Israelis – piling up rocks, fireworks and explosives – it is they who desecrate the place.
Those making libellous claims about Israel and Al Aqsa today ignore the fact that 3.5 million Muslims visited the site last year, compared to 200,000 Christians and just 12,500 Jews. Indeed, Israel has maintained a delicate status quo since 1967, when it regained control of the Old City of Jerusalem, and handed back the administration of the Muslim holy sites to Islamic administrators known as the Waqf. Israel is determined not to let the status quo change, and has recently banned politicians from any visits to the site, in order to calm tensions.
But ultimately, what we are seeing is not about religious rights or land. It is about the same old issue. This is the issue that people least want to discuss but which most needs to be discussed. The excuse may change with the passing years. But the reality is that, be it 1921, 1929, 1936 or 2015, Jews are being murdered simply for being Jews.
Eitan Na’eh is Israel’s Acting Ambassador to Great Britain