Human RightsIsrael

Rabbis Against “Price Tags”


Early Tuesday morning extremist settlers set a mosque on fire in the West Bank town of Mughayar.  Graffiti they left at the site explictly said it was a “price tag” for the Israeli government’s evacuation of the illegal outpost of Alei Ayin.  You can read more about the incident here.

I visited the mosque this morning with a delegation from Rabbis for Human Rights. Even though the attack was just on Tuesday, by today, Thursday, repairs were already well under way: walls were already painted and they were installing new carpet while we were there.  When I visited a mosque last year that had also been torched by vandals, we still saw the destruction when we arrived a few days later. I wrote about that visit here.

I really wish I would get the opportunity to visit mosques OTHER than to express sympathy and solidarity when some of my fellow Jews do something reprehensible.

We brought with us some new Korans as a gift to replace ones that had been damaged by the smoke. As chairman of Rabbis for Human Rights, I was given the honor of ceremonially presenting a Koran to the mayor of Mughayar, Faraj al-Nassan. We actually “borrowed” the Koran back a while later so I could present it again, this time to Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud al-Habbash.  He may be ex-Hamas, but he did powerfully condemn the attacks on the settlers in Itamar, so I think we can believe he honestly no longer supports that ideology.

My remarks when I gave them the Koran follow (loosely, I spoke extemporaneously):

We are here as Rabbis for Human Rights, men of faith, religious people, to say that what happened here is completely against the values of the Jewish religion.

The Torah teaches that you shall not punish the sons for the sins of the father, or the father for the sins of the son.  All the more so, you may not punish an innocent party.

Furthermore, we are cautioned against vengeance.  The Torah also teaches “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”  Anyone who would act in vengeance should beware of the vengeance of the Lord.

I am pleased to present you with this Koran as a symbol of our respect and honor.  We are all sons of Ibrahim (Abraham).  We pray for the day when all of Ibrahim’s children may live together in harmony and peace, Amen.

After the ceremony we went to the home of Jamir for refreshments.  Jamir is a successful farmer, willing to put up with the harassment of those settlers who would block his access to his land.  Rabbis for Human Rights is frequently out defending him during harvest time.  I was surprised to learn that his family has deep ties to Chicago and all of his 9 kids also have American passports. Not only that, one of the villages we drove through on the way there is, we were told, 75% owned by Americans (Muslim American-Palestinians).  And most of them are only there in the summer.  I had no idea!  Sounds just like the housing development at Mamila, across from Jaffa Gate, which is like a ghost town most of the year, because it is mostly owned by American Jews who only visit during the holidays.  Yet another similarity we share!  Not only that, just as many American Jews are more radical than many Israeli Jews, many American-Palestinian Muslims are more radical than the locals.  I guess it’s easy to be ideologically extreme if you don’t have to live with the consequences of your ideology on a full-time basis.

After a bite to eat we went back to the mosque to meet with the Minister (he’s the guy with the tie).  I gave an abbreviated version of my comments; he said “the attack on the mosque here is not only an attack on us, it is an attack on you and your religious values.”  I agreed.

I find it outrageous and unbelievably offensive that someone mad at the Israeli government for evacuating an illegal settlement would choose to take their anger out on a mosque that had nothing to do with the decision of the Israeli government.  As one of my colleagues said on the ride home, if they were mad they should have set the Knesset on fire, not a mosque!

It’s an embarrassment that there are Jews who would do such a thing.  I hope that our presence had at least some slight positive influence toward reconciliation, and will help prevent some of their “hot heads” from feeling they have to take vengeance on the settlers.  A cycle of violence and revenge violence, violence and revenge violence only serves to make the day when we will have peace here recede even further.  Which may be the perpetrators’ goal, but we, the decent people of Israel, Palestine, and the world, can’t let the bad guys win.  It’s too important.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

10 thoughts on “Rabbis Against “Price Tags”

  • Avi Kessler

    As usual, you are so quick to condemn the “extremist Jewish settlers” and run to the defense of the poor Palestinians bearing Koran gifts in hand. If one logically examines the facts, one could just as easily conclude that this act of aggression was indeed perpetrated by local Palestinians to point a finger at Jews in an effort to garner world sympathy and undermine the peace process.

    Consider the fact that some “eyewitnesses” said a man opened the mosque’s doors early Tuesday morning on his way to pray and discovered the fire. Other “eyewitnesses” say they saw the vehicle used by the perpetrators as it left the scene, and police were told of suspicious activity as early as 1 A.M.

    But the most puzzling fact is that the mosque is in the village’s center, meaning the arsonists had to navigate Mughayar’s narrow alleys, reach their destination, set a tire on fire, break a window large enough to throw the tire inside, and leave through the same alleyways undetected. And what was the Palestinian Authority’s district governor’s reaction? She said that the perpetrators had to have had the support of the Israeli army. So now we not only have extremist Jewish perpetrators, but collusion with the Israeli Defense Force.

    In the scheme of conspiracy theories, why not go with extremist Jewish settlers who would literally risk their lives getting to and departing from the mosque undetected with assistance from the Israeli army. Though it’s interesting that no eyewitness claimed to have seen any soldiers or multiple vehicles. Perhaps there is a feud with the worshipers of the other community mosque and they are concerned about dividing the community with a second mosque.

    Clearly there is enough element of doubt for even a left wing self-hating Jew as yourself to pause and think before pointing your finger in condemnation. But then, you wouldn’t have risen to your level of prominence at the RHR.

    Absolutely shameful, Barry.

    • Barry Leff

      Hi Avi, I generally don’t put too much stock in conspiracy theories. There are also people who said 9/11 was perpetrated by the Jews. Would you set your synagogue on fire to get sympathy? Do you think you could scam the whole world?

      In the middle of the night when everyone is asleep it would not be that hard to get in and out of the village undetected. And by the way, the attackers did NOT have to navigate the village’s narrow streets; there is a path from a dirt road directly under the mosque. I saw it yesterday on my way out of town.

      I also don’t buy the idea that they had the support of the IDF. There is no shortage of people who will try to put a spin on things.

      Conflicting eye witness reports also don’t prove anything. It’s entirely possible there was “suspicious activity” in the area earlier in the night when they were scouting out the area and deciding on their course of action.

  • Leah Moses

    Reprehensible acts are reprehensible acts. Thank you for showing decency and solidarity.

    I want to say that I live in Efrat. I do not believe in returning to pre 67 borders. I also want to say that I support something like this about as much as I support what happened in Itamar.

    In many ways, it is as painful when it comes from your community as when it happens in your community.

    It helps me to remember that the violent extremes we are seeing from both sides are coming from a place of pain. I try to remember that when I hear of a terrorist attack or attend a funeral. And, while it it is harder to have compassion for one of your own sometimes (we always expect more from those closest to us) I am also trying to remember the pain these people are feeling at losing their homes.

    I pray that if my home is ever the price for peace, I will be able to act with grace: If I crack and can’t, I pray for compassion.

    Thank you again.

  • Karen B. Amarawansa

    Thank you for your comments. We need more Rabbis willing to speak out for peace in the Middle East.

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  • We will only have world peace when we all decide to act in moderation. I am grateful for Rabbis for Human Rights for providing us with such an excellent example.

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  • Soryl Rosenberg

    Excellent Review

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