My Word: The ghosts of holidays past

By
December 24, 2015 21:08

I love living in a country where Christmas is an ordinary day, but the way the Jerusalem Municipality distributes free Christmas trees – almost all supplied by the JNF – also appeals to me.




Santa

A Christian man dressed up as Santa Claus greets a Muslim man in Jerusalem's Old City. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)

Living in Israel, it’s hard to keep track of Christmas. Not only is it an ordinary day in the Jewish state, but nearly all the Christians I know celebrate it on a different day. The minority within the minority will be celebrating it on December 25.

The Greek Orthodox monastery near my Jerusalem home doesn’t ring its Christmas bells until January 6, and I often quip that Armenian friends mark Christmas so late, January 18, that by the time they’ve started the festivities many people have already broken their New Year resolutions.

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This year I had to think about Christmas a little more than usual. It was one of the topics I spoke about on Radio New Zealand’s Nights show this week.

I hadn’t expected, however, that the pleasant and intelligent interviewer, Bryan Crump, would also ask me about Hanukka.

In the fast-paced Middle East the holiday that ended just over a week ago is over – bar the attempts to shift the evidence of the traditional doughnuts and latkes that linger on the hips long after they’ve passed the lips.

Still, I realized that while tourists and pilgrims are arriving despite the security situation, having been spared the threat of a general strike that would have seriously marred their visits, the festive lighting along Jerusalem streets is still of hanukkiot.

Christmas cheer and trappings are mainly found in the Old City and at the YMCA. Get that “YMCA” song out of your heads: There are carols and bell-ringing there instead.

And there is traditional Midnight Mass in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

I love living in a country where Christmas is an ordinary day, but the way the Jerusalem Municipality distributes free Christmas trees – almost all supplied by the Jewish National Fund – also appeals to me.

When I was growing up in London, my mother instigated a system of small fines whenever she caught me or my siblings singing Christmas carols. The money was dropped in the JNF’s “Blue Box.” Ironically, my coins might have paid for some of those Christmas trees.

As we spoke on the live broadcast – the same world, but definitely opposite sides of it – I noted that the Christian community in Israel is undergoing certain changes. Only a small number have taken advantage of the possibility of listing their identity as “Aramean” in their Israeli ID cards, but it is symptomatic of a general move.

As Christian communities are being persecuted, enslaved and destroyed throughout the Middle East, some Israeli Christians are beginning to distance themselves from their “Arab” identity.

The study of Aramaic is becoming popular in certain communities. It’s part of a return to roots and an acknowledgment that, like the Jews, the Christians predate the birth of Islam and Arab nations.

Some brave members of the community, like Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Naddaf, risking physical and verbal attack, are encouraging Christian youth to enlist in the IDF at age 18, like the Jews and Druse. According to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the number of Christians joining the military has increased from just 40 in 2012 to more than 100 in 2014, and this year in March alone, 102 Christian Arabs enlisted. IFCJ estimates that there are some 165,000 Arab Christians in Israel. Military, or civilian, service is the easiest way to feel a part of the country. It’s a blood bond.

We’re all in this together. And none of us intend disappearing.

ONE OF the greatest tragedies of the waves of Palestinian terrorism is that it causes suffering without the chance of achieving its goal, for the aim is not the creation of a Palestinian state – that could have been formed any number of times since 1948 – but the destruction of the Jewish state.

The acts of terrorism (and rocket fire from both north and south) do not encourage Israelis to ignore the ghosts of wars past and risk handing over land to those carrying out the attacks.

Since September 13, the Jewish New Year, 24 people have been killed in Israel.

As I write these lines, a few hours after the fatal attack at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, there have been at least 95 stabbing attacks, 34 shootings and 19 ramming attacks.

That’s not a good way to start the year.

No wonder people want to do a reset on January 1.

With so many incidents and casualties it’s hard to list all the names and places in a column such as this, but some cases, particularly tragic or gruesome, will stick in the public mind. There are the dreadful attacks in which children saw their parents murdered, such as the Henkins and the deaths of Aharon Banita and Rabbi Nehemia Lavie in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The attack on 13-year-old Naor Shalev as he rode his bike in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, slashed and left for dead by a Palestinian boy the same age and a cousin two years older, also stands out. In typical Israeli coincidence, a Jewish doctor treated the young terrorist (the one the Palestinians insisted had been “martyred”) and an Arab doctor saved Naor Shalev’s life, enabling him to celebrate his bar mitzva at the Western Wall last week.

Talking about a celebration, Sara-Tehiya Litman and Ariel Biegel entered our hearts and minds – forever – when they invited the whole country to dance at their wedding, days after Sara-Tehiya lost her father and a brother in a terrorist ambush. Thousands turned up to help the young couple celebrate life. It was, as I told Crump, the most Israeli response to terrorism.

The death of Ezra Schwartz, an American spending his gap year in Israel, affected many English speakers who either knew him or knew someone like him.

And the murder of 76-year-old Richard Lakin, shot and stabbed on a Jerusalem bus, also left a lasting impression, particularly as Lakin was well-known as a civil rights activists and a campaigner for coexistence.

His family’s response has also been fitting.

His son Micah Lakin Avni has launched a campaign calling on social media giants Facebook and Twitter to stop serving as platforms for incitement and displaying manuals on how to carry out attacks. While Israelis were brushing up on first-aid techniques with free lessons, our enemies were learning on the Internet where and how to stab a person for the deadliest effect.

“My father raised me to cherish and protect free speech, but the very liberty that free speech was designed to protect is at stake when it is used to spread venom and incite violence,” wrote Avni in an op-ed in The New York Times in November titled “The Facebook Intifada.”

Last week waiting for a bus I realized that the small flag and large sign proclaiming “Am Yisrael Hai – the People of Israel Lives” marked the spot where a ramming incident had taken place a few days before.

The terrorist was fortunately shot on the spot as he was reaching for an ax to hack at the injured. Please don’t lecture me about proportionality. I believe that whenever possible a terrorist should be “neutralized,” not killed, both on moral grounds and because the intelligence they can provide security services could help save lives.

But armed Israelis who happen to be first on the scene as an attack is taking place should not wait to see how many innocent people have been hurt and killed before deciding what’s the “proportional” response according to the double standards constantly applied to Israel.

In this incident, a baby lost a leg despite the valiant efforts of doctors. That’s a boy who will need a prosthesis when he reaches his toddler years.

His smiling face, circulating on Israeli websites with requests for prayers, is the face of innocence.

This week Jerusalem Post reporter Sam Sokol brought to the office a doll aimed at the Palestinian market – a well-made rag doll of a boy wearing a keffiyeh with a raised hand holding a rock.

That’s not a Christmas present. It’s not a gift for any holiday. It’s child abuse.

A rock-throwing potential “martyr” should not be a child’s toy companion.

The Facebook pages that Avni and others are battling are the sign of a different world – one of global jihad. The young Palestinians being encouraged to attack Jews are obviously inspired not only by the promise of glory in their own community but also by gory videos that ISIS posts. The only thing that surprised me about the doll was that it was equipped with a rock rather than a knife. That’s so 2014.

The Western world is painfully waking up to the fact that the rules are changing. To be precise, in the jihadists’ world there are no rules. There is no fair play.

How to balance the new security threats with maintaining human rights is the greatest challenge.

Last week, several European media reported that one of the continent’s most wanted men, Salah Abdelslam, was tracked down to a house in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek 48 hours after the Paris terror attacks that claimed the lives of more than 130 people but wasn’t arrested because police cannot carry out house raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens has since announced the nighttime ban will be amended.

It was “Gee-thanks” Geens who said that the November 13 attacks in Paris “had shown that the profile of potential targets had changed. ‘It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums or police stations, it’s mass gatherings and public places.’” I guess we should be grateful he finally figured out that terrorism needs tackling (if it’s not restricted to Israel and the Jews).

You can fight terrorism with humor; you can fight it with the celebration of life and joy. But that’s not enough. Ultimately, terrorism can only be brought under control by countries working with a well-thoughtout strategic plan, aware of what it is they are fighting, and what they’re fighting for.

Living in Israel, it’s hard to keep track of Christmas. Not only is it an ordinary day in the Jewish state, but nearly all the Christians I know celebrate it on a different day. The minority within the minority will be celebrating it on December 25.

The Greek Orthodox monastery near my Jerusalem home doesn’t ring its Christmas bells until January 6, and I often quip that Armenian friends mark Christmas so late, January 18, that by the time they’ve started the festivities many people have already broken their New Year resolutions.

This year I had to think about Christmas a little more than usual. It was one of the topics I spoke about on Radio New Zealand’s Nights show this week.

I hadn’t expected, however, that the pleasant and intelligent interviewer, Bryan Crump, would also ask me about Hanukka.

In the fast-paced Middle East the holiday that ended just over a week ago is over – bar the attempts to shift the evidence of the traditional doughnuts and latkes that linger on the hips long after they’ve passed the lips.

Still, I realized that while tourists and pilgrims are arriving despite the security situation, having been spared the threat of a general strike that would have seriously marred their visits, the festive lighting along Jerusalem streets is still of hanukkiot.

Christmas cheer and trappings are mainly found in the Old City and at the YMCA. Get that “YMCA” song out of your heads: There are carols and bell-ringing there instead.

And there is traditional Midnight Mass in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

I love living in a country where Christmas is an ordinary day, but the way the Jerusalem Municipality distributes free Christmas trees – almost all supplied by the Jewish National Fund – also appeals to me.

When I was growing up in London, my mother instigated a system of small fines whenever she caught me or my siblings singing Christmas carols. The money was dropped in the JNF’s “Blue Box.” Ironically, my coins might have paid for some of those Christmas trees.

As we spoke on the live broadcast – the same world, but definitely opposite sides of it – I noted that the Christian community in Israel is undergoing certain changes. Only a small number have taken advantage of the possibility of listing their identity as “Aramean” in their Israeli ID cards, but it is symptomatic of a general move.

As Christian communities are being persecuted, enslaved and destroyed throughout the Middle East, some Israeli Christians are beginning to distance themselves from their “Arab” identity.

The study of Aramaic is becoming popular in certain communities. It’s part of a return to roots and an acknowledgment that, like the Jews, the Christians predate the birth of Islam and Arab nations.

Some brave members of the community, like Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Naddaf, risking physical and verbal attack, are encouraging Christian youth to enlist in the IDF at age 18, like the Jews and Druse. According to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the number of Christians joining the military has increased from just 40 in 2012 to more than 100 in 2014, and this year in March alone, 102 Christian Arabs enlisted. IFCJ estimates that there are some 165,000 Arab Christians in Israel. Military, or civilian, service is the easiest way to feel a part of the country. It’s a blood bond.

We’re all in this together. And none of us intend disappearing.

ONE OF the greatest tragedies of the waves of Palestinian terrorism is that it causes suffering without the chance of achieving its goal, for the aim is not the creation of a Palestinian state – that could have been formed any number of times since 1948 – but the destruction of the Jewish state.

The acts of terrorism (and rocket fire from both north and south) do not encourage Israelis to ignore the ghosts of wars past and risk handing over land to those carrying out the attacks.

Since September 13, the Jewish New Year, 24 people have been killed in Israel.

As I write these lines, a few hours after the fatal attack at Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, there have been at least 95 stabbing attacks, 34 shootings and 19 ramming attacks.

That’s not a good way to start the year.

No wonder people want to do a reset on January 1.

With so many incidents and casualties it’s hard to list all the names and places in a column such as this, but some cases, particularly tragic or gruesome, will stick in the public mind. There are the dreadful attacks in which children saw their parents murdered, such as the Henkins and the deaths of Aharon Banita and Rabbi Nehemia Lavie in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The attack on 13-year-old Naor Shalev as he rode his bike in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood, slashed and left for dead by a Palestinian boy the same age and a cousin two years older, also stands out. In typical Israeli coincidence, a Jewish doctor treated the young terrorist (the one the Palestinians insisted had been “martyred”) and an Arab doctor saved Naor Shalev’s life, enabling him to celebrate his bar mitzva at the Western Wall last week.

Talking about a celebration, Sara-Tehiya Litman and Ariel Biegel entered our hearts and minds – forever – when they invited the whole country to dance at their wedding, days after Sara-Tehiya lost her father and a brother in a terrorist ambush. Thousands turned up to help the young couple celebrate life. It was, as I told Crump, the most Israeli response to terrorism.

The death of Ezra Schwartz, an American spending his gap year in Israel, affected many English speakers who either knew him or knew someone like him.

And the murder of 76-year-old Richard Lakin, shot and stabbed on a Jerusalem bus, also left a lasting impression, particularly as Lakin was well-known as a civil rights activists and a campaigner for coexistence.

His family’s response has also been fitting.

His son Micah Lakin Avni has launched a campaign calling on social media giants Facebook and Twitter to stop serving as platforms for incitement and displaying manuals on how to carry out attacks. While Israelis were brushing up on first-aid techniques with free lessons, our enemies were learning on the Internet where and how to stab a person for the deadliest effect.

“My father raised me to cherish and protect free speech, but the very liberty that free speech was designed to protect is at stake when it is used to spread venom and incite violence,” wrote Avni in an op-ed in The New York Times in November titled “The Facebook Intifada.”

Last week waiting for a bus I realized that the small flag and large sign proclaiming “Am Yisrael Hai – the People of Israel Lives” marked the spot where a ramming incident had taken place a few days before.

The terrorist was fortunately shot on the spot as he was reaching for an ax to hack at the injured. Please don’t lecture me about proportionality. I believe that whenever possible a terrorist should be “neutralized,” not killed, both on moral grounds and because the intelligence they can provide security services could help save lives.

But armed Israelis who happen to be first on the scene as an attack is taking place should not wait to see how many innocent people have been hurt and killed before deciding what’s the “proportional” response according to the double standards constantly applied to Israel.

In this incident, a baby lost a leg despite the valiant efforts of doctors. That’s a boy who will need a prosthesis when he reaches his toddler years.

His smiling face, circulating on Israeli websites with requests for prayers, is the face of innocence.

This week Jerusalem Post reporter Sam Sokol brought to the office a doll aimed at the Palestinian market – a well-made rag doll of a boy wearing a keffiyeh with a raised hand holding a rock.

That’s not a Christmas present. It’s not a gift for any holiday. It’s child abuse.

A rock-throwing potential “martyr” should not be a child’s toy companion.

The Facebook pages that Avni and others are battling are the sign of a different world – one of global jihad. The young Palestinians being encouraged to attack Jews are obviously inspired not only by the promise of glory in their own community but also by gory videos that ISIS posts. The only thing that surprised me about the doll was that it was equipped with a rock rather than a knife. That’s so 2014.

The Western world is painfully waking up to the fact that the rules are changing. To be precise, in the jihadists’ world there are no rules. There is no fair play.

How to balance the new security threats with maintaining human rights is the greatest challenge.

Last week, several European media reported that one of the continent’s most wanted men, Salah Abdelslam, was tracked down to a house in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek 48 hours after the Paris terror attacks that claimed the lives of more than 130 people but wasn’t arrested because police cannot carry out house raids between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens has since announced the nighttime ban will be amended.

It was “Gee-thanks” Geens who said that the November 13 attacks in Paris “had shown that the profile of potential targets had changed. ‘It’s no longer synagogues or the Jewish museums or police stations, it’s mass gatherings and public places.’” I guess we should be grateful he finally figured out that terrorism needs tackling (if it’s not restricted to Israel and the Jews).

You can fight terrorism with humor; you can fight it with the celebration of life and joy. But that’s not enough. Ultimately, terrorism can only be brought under control by countries working with a well-thoughtout strategic plan, aware of what it is they are fighting, and what they’re fighting for.

liat@jpost.com


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