Coronavirus has turned our attention away from other major stories

My Word: Missing links and stories

Joint prayer for world health in Jerusalem on April 22, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Joint prayer for world health in Jerusalem on April 22, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Fear of missing out, FOMO, is so 2019. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the lockdowns implemented around the world to try to slow its spread, people stuck at home can find a minimal amount of consolation in the fact that they’re not the only ones not having fun or going places. COVID-19, with its death toll and economic repercussions, has come to dominate our lives and news cycles.
Nonetheless, I realized that I’ve been in danger of letting certain stories pass me by, stories that in different – better – days, I would have considered deserving of more attention. So, I decided to take a look at some of the items that almost got away. Some of them made me look back in anger.
The reports of the opening of the new shopping mall in Gaza, for example, made me do a double take. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh wrote last week that Hamas came under widespread criticism after hundreds of Palestinians converged on the freshly inaugurated Hype Mall in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, despite the bans on gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Abu Toameh noted that some claimed that the owners of the mall were closely associated with senior Hamas leaders, which is how they were allowed to open the shopping center last month despite the health risks. Others noted that the shopping mall had opened even though all mosques in the Gaza Strip were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
It is the bon ton in certain circles to declare that Gaza is a vast prison. Comparisons to a ghetto are tritely bandied around. And that’s what’s so infuriating. The aptly named Hype Mall, by the way, is just one of several shopping centers in the Gaza Strip.
I don’t begrudge the Palestinians a chance to go shopping. Signs of economic growth are likely to be the harbinger of stability, even when peace remains a distant dream. But there should at least be an acknowledgment of the fact that the construction of a mall means there are consumers to be found. Not every Palestinian is starving and those who are going hungry should blame their own corrupt leadership.
The international community should question where the huge sums of foreign donations and funding have gone; whether supplies meant for housing haven’t ended up creating a consumer heaven for Hamas cronies; and, above all, whether a place where generations of the same families have been living for decades – now with a fancy shopping mall – can really be considered a “refugee camp.”
Another story that has literally gone under the radar is the return of kite terrorism. Several incendiary kites have been launched from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel in recent days. The government is busy bickering over cabinet seats and fighting COVID-19 but it cannot afford to ignore the return of Palestinian eco-terrorism as if it were a natural sign of the coming hot days of summer.
Which brings me to another widely overlooked recent story. Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, last month, yet again, showed his true face when he declared: “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel to save millions of lives.”
Barghouti was talking on a webinar on “BDS and anti-normalization: The most important strategies to fight against the deal of the century, even in the time of COVID-19.” The title says it all.
Barghouti, with two faces and double standards, has long exempted himself from practicing what he preaches. It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to call for the international boycott of Tel Aviv University while studying for a doctorate there. Barghouti has hijacked history to suit his own narrative and needs. It serves him well and he is a poster boy for anti-Israel organizations – but it doesn’t serve the very people he professes to represent.
When it comes to rewriting history, the Danish Bible Society has excelled itself. It rewrote The Book.
According to a story I was alerted to by 24NYT – a Danish online paper – The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 has cleansed all but two mentions of Israel from the New Testament and significantly reduced the use of the word “Israel” in its translation of the Old Testament. 
The Bible Society published a rebuttal of the charges after the story began to spread on social media, but still I found myself singing Gershwin’s lyrics from Porgy and Bess: “The things that you’re li’ble to read in the Bible, they ain’t necessarily so.”
“The Contemporary Danish Bible 2020 is a special kind of Bible translation directed at secular readers with no or little knowledge of the Bible and of its history and traditional church and Bible language. This means that many things are translated differently than in traditional Bible translations,” the Bible Society wrote on its site. “... for the secular reader, who does not know the Bible well, ‘Israel’ could be referring only to a country. Therefore the word ‘Israel’ in the Greek text has been translated in other ways, so that the reader understands it is referring to the Jewish people.”
Read that again. Instead of making sure that readers understand the connection between Israel, the Jews and the Land of Israel of the Bible, they preferred to make an artificial separation.
Bible enthusiast Jan Frost listed the unusual translations in a YouTube video in Danish. According to English-language reports, Frost noted, for example, that in the Song of Ascents from Psalm 121, the original Hebrew “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” replaces “Israel” with “us.” And while a representative of the Bible Society reportedly told Frost that the decision was made to avoid confusing the Land of Israel with the State of Israel, the name Egypt, has not been changed.
Taking a charitable approach, it’s possible to say that the Danish Bible translators did not see their changes as a political act, more an act of political correctness – trying to include all. But clearly something was lost in translation, as is evident to someone who reads the Bible in the original Hebrew. As B’nai Brith International tweeted: “... this surreal revision causes confusion and worse: whitewashing of history, identity, and sacred scripture.”
A major story that did not get the coverage it deserves, is the centenary of the San Remo Conference, which dealt with the fate of territories that until 1920 were a part of the Ottoman Empire, which had collapsed with the end of World War I.
Although it never gets the attention of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 or the UN Partition Plan of 1947, arguably San Remo was more important than both, anchoring in international law the legal and historic rights of the Jewish people to its homeland. Arab rioters killed Jews in British Mandate Palestine throughout April 1920 – long before “the settlements” could be blamed. It was the very existence of a Jewish state they objected to. That’s why attempts to erase Jewish religious and historical links to the biblical Land of Israel are so pernicious.
There have also been heartwarming stories that lacked the resonance they deserve. One of my favorites was covered by the Post’s Jeremy Sharon: On April 22, a remarkable group of religious leaders assembled in Jerusalem to recite a joint prayer to alleviate the suffering experienced around the world caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef; Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau; Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III; Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa; head of the Organization of Imams from Southern Israel Imam Sheikh Jamal el Ubra, Imam Sheikh Agel Al-Atrash and Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Mowafaq Tarif read the same prayer in their own liturgical languages.
As Israel turned 72 this week, it’s clear to me that what really benefits people in the region is not terrorism and anti-normalization sponsored by the Palestinian leadership but cooperation and joint prayer. That’s the story I fear is too often missing.
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