Lag B’omer is coming – the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavuot, a day traditionally for throwing off mourning and instead celebrating with music, weddings and bonfires. Lag B’omer is a minor holiday that not many American Jews are aware of. Paradoxically, Palestinians in the West Bank town of Hebron have it circled on their calendars.
It has become a Lag B’omer custom of some Jewish settlers in Hebron to vandalize Palestinian property for wood with which to build bonfires. And unlike Israel, which regularly shuts down the West Bank for Passover to minimize the possibility of a terrorist attack during the holiday, the Palestinians don’t have the means to protect their communities come Lag B’omer.
As Jews and friends of Israel, we recognize the dread of an approaching holiday. Those Passover closures are Israel’s response to the horrific suicide bombing by Hamas of a seder at a Netanya hotel in 2002. The attack killed 30 Jews and wounded 140. There’s also dread at Purim, since a bloody 1996 Hamas attack in Tel Aviv killed 14 and wounded 130 on that holiday.
We’ve internalized that dread. It’s the dread of Jewish history, the lesson that somebody must always pay the price.
Still, we can’t leave unremarked this twisted Lag B’omer practice of terrorizing Palestinians on a day dedicated to joy and relief. Preying on Palestinians has become so routine that it is no longer newsworthy. But this can’t be the way of Jewish “celebration”: breaking into Palestinian shops and damaging them. And these can’t be the actions of God-fearing Jews – spray painting Stars of David and racist slogans on the walls of a mosque, as was done two weeks ago in the West Bank town of Hawara.
But they are and it is a shanda.
The same attackers, from the nearby Jewish settlement of Yitzhar, are believed to have uprooted 300 of Hawara’s olive trees and set fire to two vehicles. Two days later, two more Palestinian cars were burned. Scrawled on one of them were the words “price tag.”
“Price tag” is a term coined by radical settlers in the West Bank, according to Ha’aretz, “whereby settlers have vowed to attack Palestinians in retaliation for government actions against West Bank settlements.” In other words, when settlers don’t like what their government is doing, Palestinians pay the price.
This is not faith. This is not Jewish pride. This is not self-defense. It’s thuggery, base and criminal. And it shouldn’t have to take a liberal like me to point it out. Whether you believe in West Bank settlements or not, whether you believe in a two-state solution or not, lawlessness on the West Bank should be a concern of every Jew, especially when the perpetrators are Jews.
Please don’t start writing a letter to the editor in response to what I’m saying just yet. It’s outrageous that the Palestinians have named a street in Ramallah for the terrorist Yihyeh Ayyash, a.k.a, “The Engineer”! How can you compare some olive trees to the suicide bombing on the Jerusalem pizzeria just a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks?
I can’t. And I won’t. That would be Price Tagging, making sure that some party, guilty or not, pays and that the accounts are balanced – but nothing is settled. What I’m talking about is everyone from the moderate center – liberals and conservatives, hawks and doves – speaking out and insisting that the Israeli authorities begin taking Jewish lawlessness seriously. Not only as a threat to the Palestinians who are under Israel’s occupation, but to Israel itself through the erosion of the rule of law.
At the end of the Omer period comes Shavuot, when Jews celebrate the giving of the Law. Observant Jews feel this yoke of the Torah most keenly, a reaffirmation of the question, What does G-d want – and not want – from me?
Vandalizing property. Defacing holy sites. Torching cars. Stirring up an atmosphere of terror. It might take a liberal to air these things. But it shouldn’t take G-d to tell you they’re wrong.
Luis Lainer is former national Chair of Americans for Peace Now
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