Palestinian attacks on the Jewish religious heritage
|London - published Wednesday 21 August 2002, updated 8
There have been over 18,000 violent attacks on Israeli
targets since September 2000.
Many have been carried out against sites which are holy
to the Jewish people, or have taken place on communal
These attacks are an assault on the heritage of the Jewish
people and have stunned Israelis - religious and non-religious.
This Briefing describes some of them.
Repeated stonings of Jewish worshippers
at The Western Wall in Jerusalem
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is Judaism's
most holy place. It is the only surviving wall of the second
temple, which was destroyed by the Romans 2000 years ago.
Jews the world over face in the direction of the Western Wall
when they pray.
The Temple Mount complex, which is sacred
to Muslims and the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al
Aqsa Mosque, directly overlooks the Western Wall plaza some
20 meters below.
On 29 September 2000, a crowd of Arab youths,
incited by a Muslim cleric, stoned Jewish worshippers praying
at the Western Wall. The worshippers were evacuated.
This attack took place on the eve of the
Jewish New Year, and was described by Palestinian spokesmen
as being a "response" to the visit the previous
day of Ariel Sharon to the Al Aqsa mosque.
Ariel Sharon’s visit to Al Aqsa –
whatever view you take of its political wisdom – took
place without violence.
The Palestinian stoning of the Western
Wall the next day was the first act of calculated violence
of the Palestinian intifada, to which Israeli security personnel
Since then, Jews praying at the Western
Wall have been evacuated on numerous occasions due to stoning
attacks by Arab youths. Ironically, one stoning took place
on the Jewish day of national mourning (known as 'Tisha Be'av')
in August 2001, when Jews commemorate the destruction of the
temples in Jerusalem.
These attacks on the Western Wall are an
attack on fundamental Jewish rights, and a flagrant abuse
by Palestinian extremists of the Islamic sanctity of the Temple
The burning of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus, October 2000
Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob, lived
approximately 3700 years ago. His burial place is in the town
of Nablus (whose biblical name is Shechem).
In October 2000 Joseph's Tomb was attacked
and burnt out by a Palestinian crowd.
There was a tragic aftermath. A Rabbi (Rabbi
Hillel Lieberman) who was watching the burning of the tomb
from a nearby hillside, was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen.
His funeral cortege was later shot at and stoned by Palestinians
Armed attacks on Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs
The Jewish matriarch Rachel is buried outside
Bethlehem. Her tomb ('Rachel's Tomb') is about 3750 years
old, and a pivotal place of prayer for Jewish women.
The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and the other matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried
in the Cave of the Jewish Patriarchs in Hebron (the 'Machpela
Cave'). This tomb is even older than Rachel's Tomb.
For thousands of years, Rachel’s Tomb
and the Cave of the Patriarchs have been places of pilgrimage
and prayer for Jews, the most significant spiritual locations
in Judaism apart from Jerusalem.
Since October 2000 Palestinian gunmen have
initiated several gun battles around these holy sites. Soldiers
guarding them have been killed.
In October 2001, on the Jewish festival
of Tabernacles (known as Succot), Jewish women at prayer at
the Cave of the Patriarchs were shot at. Several women were
The final territorial sovereignty of these
holy sites needs to be addressed in political negotiations.
This questions cannot be resolved by Palestinian violence
against Jews who are fulfilling spiritual beliefs in a non-violent
way which have been part of Jewish tradition for thousands
Suicide bomb attack on bus leaving The Western Wall
- Bus Number 2 transports thousands of Jewish worshippers every
week to and from the Western Wall, including many devout Jews
from the country's ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods and cities.
- On 19 August 2003 a Hamas suicide bomber boarded a crowded
Number 2 bus and detonated his bomb, packed with ball-bearings,
as the bus was passing through Jerusalem's Beit Yisrael neighbourhood.
- 22 passengers were killed, including 6 children, a mother of
13 children, fathers of 9,7,5,5 and 4 children, and many other
members of large families. 134 people were injured, many seriously.
- Rescue workers described the attack as perhaps the most gruesome
in 3 years of the Palestinian intifada.
- It is roughly the equivalent of a suicide bombing of pilgrims
leaving the Vatican, or worshippers departing from Westminster
Abbey in London.
Attacks on Jewish Bar-Mitzvah and Bat-Mitzvah celebrations
Among the best-known Jewish family occasions
are the "coming-of-age" events - the so-called bar-mitzvah
for boys aged 13, and the bat-mitzvah for girls aged 12.
Even these have been subject to indiscriminate
and ruthless Palestinian attacks.
On 17 January 2002, a Palestinian burst
into a bat-mitzvah party for a 12 year old girl in a banqueting
hall in the Israeli town of Hadera. He opened fire with an
M-16 assault rifle, killing 6 people and wounding 35.
On 2 March 2002, a suicide bomber attacked
a crowd of people who had been attending a bar-mitzvah gathering
at the end the Sabbath in the Beit Yisrael religious quarter
of Jerusalem, killing 11 people and wounding over 50 (see
Beyond Images Briefing 12 - Israeli Families Devastated).
Attacks on students at Jewish talmudic colleges
On 8 March 2002 a Palestinian burst into
the study hall of a Talmudic and pre-military training college
in the settlement of Atzmona in the Gaza Strip and opened
fire, killing five 18 year old boys taking part in a late
night Biblical study group, and wounding 23 others.
On 28 May 2002 a Palestinian shot dead
three teenage Jewish boys playing basketball in the courtyard
of the Itamar religious college near the West Bank town of
On 27 December 2002 two Palestinians infiltrated
the settlement of Otniel on the Friday night and shot dead
four students who were preparing to serve the Sabbath evening
meal at Otniel’s college of Torah studies
In March 2002 two elderly men walking to
synagogue in Netzarim were stabbed to death by a Palestinian
On 27 April 2002 a Palestinian gunman infiltrated
the Jewish settlement of Adora on the Sabbath night, shot
four residents dead, and wounded several others. Victims included
a five year old girl shot dead in her bed.
On Friday afternoons, the Machane Yehuda
market in Jerusalem attracts thousands of citizens who stock
up with fruit and vegetables, wine, and other last-minute
provisions for the Jewish Sabbath.
Despite being a frequent target of bomb
attacks since the 1990s (including a double suicide bombing
by Hamas in 1997 which killed 15), the market remains a popular
On 12 April 2002, a Palestinian suicide
bomber attacked the market two hours before the Jewish Sabbath,
killing 6 people and wounding 80.
On 8 June 2002, terrorists infiltrated
the settlement of Carmei Tzur near Jerusalem on the Sabbath
late at night, and shot three Israelis dead, including a husband
and his nine-month pregnant wife.
On November 15 2002 Palestinian gunmen
ambushed guards walking behind a group of Jewish worshippers
returning home from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron following
Sabbath evening prayers. The gunmen also shot Israeli army
soldiers and Hebron security volunteers who attempted to rescue
the Israeli victims. 12 Israelis were killed, and 12 wounded.
The Passover attack in Netanya’s Park Hotel
A defining moment in this chronicle of
violence against Jewish religious life came on the first night
of Passover 2002.
The Passover meal is the most widely observed
festive occasion of the Jewish year – a moment of togetherness,
hope, and prayer for the redemption of the Jewish people.
On 27 March a suicide bomber walked into
the dining hall of the Park Hotel in Netanya and blew himself
up, killing 30 Israelis who had just sat down to take part
in the Passover meal.
No exact analogies can be drawn, but this
is roughly the equivalent of bombing a Christmas lunch, or
a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States.
The attack caused outrage in Israel, and
triggered 'Operation Defensive Shield' - Israel's military
operation of April 2002 against Palestinian terror networks.
The Israeli people had hoped that, amidst
the violence, there were "red lines" which Palestinian
extremists would not cross.
But this sequence of attacks (and many
others) has taught Israelis the bitter lesson that even the
most deeply rooted Jewish religious practices are no sanctuary
from Palestinian fanaticism.
The attacks demonstrate a fundamental contempt
for Jewish rights and heritage. Despite this, it is Israel
which continues to face accusations that it disregards the
religious freedoms of the Palestinian people. The truth is