This is Israel. Nothing could be more Israeli than the homecomings we witnessed on March 20.
The first was tragic: Three flagdraped coffins of victims of a terrorist attack were flown in an IAF Hercules from Istanbul to Ben-Gurion Airport, carrying the bodies of Avraham Goldman, 69, a father of three; Simcha Damri, 60, a mother of four; and Yonatan (Yoni) Suher, a father of two whose vacation was part of his 40th birthday celebrations.
A Magen David Adom team returned with the Israeli wounded.
It’s not hard to imagine the relief of the injured and traumatized Israelis when they first saw the Hebrew-speaking rescue team who had come to help them home.
The second homecoming was a rescue operation of a far more festive nature. Over the last few days, culminating on Sunday, 19 members of the Yemenite Jewish community were clandestinely flown to Israel, leaving the country that has been struggling with jihadist forces and civil war.
According to officials from the Jewish Agency, which handled the operation, some 200 Yemenite Jews have arrived in recent years, and the 50 or so who remain in the war-torn country chose, for whatever reason, to stay behind.
Touchingly, the new immigrants brought with them a Torah scroll believed to be 800 years old – just part of the history of the community that dates back thousands of years.
While some Israelis were saddened that their immigration basically put an end to the existence of one of the oldest Diaspora communities, I was thrilled to see them here – some in traditional dress, the men speaking fluent Hebrew with their special accent and cadence.
This is what Israel was created for – to be a home for the Jewish People. They might have flown here by plane, but there was something biblical about their arrival – the ingathering of the exiles. This type of rescue is what the country’s friends (and many of its enemies secretly) admire. Would that all the immigrants come purely from choice, without the need to seek sanctuary.
Along with the worry about the loss of their former homes, religious sites, synagogues and cemeteries – which remain unprotected from Islamist forces – there is the sense of wonderment that they have a home to come to.
In 1949 the aptly named Operation Magic Carpet airlifted thousands of Yemenite Jews in peril, for many fulfilling an ancient dream to live in Zion.
The Jewish Virtual Library records that “according to Yemenite tradition, a group of well-off Jews left Jerusalem after they heard Jeremiah predict the destruction of the Temple in 629 BCE, 42 years before the destruction of the city. Historians believe that King Solomon’s trading and naval networks brought Jews to Yemen from Judea around 900 BCE.
The first evidence of Jewish presence in Yemen can be traced to the third century CE.”
Relations with Jerusalem, Safed and elsewhere in Israel remained strong, and in 1882 Jews from Yemen were among the first to make the perilous journey home in large numbers.
THE IMMIGRATION of the Yemenite Jews has to be seen in a broader context.
On March 22, I urged a Jewish friend in Belgium to make the difficult move to Israel, where she has family and other friends.
Belgium seems less exotic than Yemen, but the dangers facing the Jewish community there are undeniably increasing, the main difference being that Jews in Europe have been receiving boosted security from the local authorities.
I wish the attacks in Brussels had come as a surprise, but they don’t. Europe is bracing for further terrorist atrocities; some are easier to prevent than others.
Israel out of necessity has developed many techniques to detect and thwart potential attacks, relying on tactics that abide by international law but sometimes conflict with the unwritten rules of political correctness.
Nothing is fail-safe, or the country wouldn’t be suffering from wave after wave of Palestinian terrorism, but overall Israelis walk on the streets without fear, even when wearing a kippa or Star of David, something that’s no longer true in many European countries.
On March 17, I posted on Facebook about my fears that Germany (and Europe) cannot win the war on terrorism after reading a Reuters report about a raid on a home in Frankfurt.
According to Reuters, police “confiscated an air pistol, electronic storage devices, mobile phones and €14,000 ($16,000) in cash but did not arrest the brothers, 21 and 30 years old.”
The report noted that one of the brothers had entered the country on a false passport – provided by ISIS – and both of them had posted support for the Islamic State on social media.
“This isn’t fair to the real refugees or the Europeans,” I opined, five days before the Belgium attacks.
As the tragic events in Brussels were taking place, I noted a strange double standard. Alerted by a report by Israel Radio’s foreign news editor Eran Cicurel, I checked what was simultaneously happening thousands of miles away in Mali. As the airport and Metro station were being blown up in Belgium, terrorists attacked a hotel in Mali’s capital, Bamako, that was reportedly serving as the headquarters of a European Union military training operation.
There were no known casualties among the mission’s personnel, but I suspect that’s not the only reason the story was mostly overlooked.
There is a tendency for the world’s press to concentrate on Europe, as if a terrorist attack there is inherently worse than an attack in Africa. And there’s also a refusal to connect the dots: Connect them and you can draw a line between Brussels – the home of the European Union – and Mali, which has suffered several recent attacks apparently by al-Qaida affiliates.
Global jihad is just that: global Islamist religious war. Ignore that at your peril.
Last week US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that Islamic State has committed genocide against minorities, saying: “The fact is that Daesh [ISIS] kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shi’ites because they are Shi’ites.”
However, in answer to a question at a daily press briefing on March 16, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said: “Acknowledging that genocide or crimes against humanity have taken place in another country would not necessarily result in any particular legal obligation for the United States.”
As Hillel Neuer, executive director of the NGO UN Watch, noted on Facebook on Tuesday: “Europe is under ISIS attack. And here at the UN Human Rights Council [in Geneva] they’re debating the 2009 Goldstone Report and condemning Israel 5 times.”
One of the five Human Rights Council resolutions expressed deep concern “at the suffering of the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan.”
I doubt there is even a handful of Druse “Syrian citizens,” living under Israeli democracy and law with access to Israeli education and health care, who would prefer to be under the control of Bashar Assad’s regime or at the mercy of al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (currently in control along the border with Israel) or struggling to survive under the Islamic State.
Nonetheless, the UNHRC pledged to continue “the consideration of the human rights violations in the occupied Syrian Golan at its thirty- fourth session,” three months from now.
Such a complete disconnect with what is happening on the ground is not rare, sadly.
The blood on the floor at Zaventem airport had not yet dried before European liberals were blaming the attack not on radical Islam but on the “frustration and anger” at the poverty of Muslim immigrants.
Even officials who are willing to acknowledge, usually in private, that Europe is facing a jihadist threat still insist that Israel could reach peace with the Palestinians simply by handing over land.
Just how that could stop the threat from ISIS, Hamas and their future incarnations is not clear, especially to anyone who has felt firsthand what happened after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.
And yet, here we still are – eating the remains of mishloah manot Purim gift packages, beginning to worry how fast Passover is approaching.
Only in Israel is it natural to dress up for Purim and spring clean ahead of Passover.
And, according to the annual World Happiness Report released last week, Israel continues to rank as the 11th-happiest country in the world for a third year in a row, after the Scandinavian countries but ahead of the US (No. 13), the UK (23) and well above France at 32.
Israel shouldn’t be the last resort of Jews facing anti-Semitism or assimilation, it should be the first choice.
Purim is behind us. Let’s look ahead to Seder night recalling the Exodus from Egypt. As is traditionally sung at the end of the meal: “Next year in Jerusalem!” [email protected]