by Paula R. Stern
Arutz-Sheva, Israel National News
Sep 12, ’05 / 8 Elul 5765
Today, as I knew they would, crazed Palestinian mobs are desecrating
25 synagogues in Gaza, setting them on fire and destroying what it
took years to build. I have visited almost all of these synagogues,
prayed in many of them. I cannot even begin to put into words the
pain I feel today, the anger and the sadness.
The world, as I expected, is silent. The United Nations’ Kofi Annan
was asked to protect the remaining synagogues, but we hear nothing.
Empty buildings, they will protest quietly; and what did you expect?
Unspoken is the silent message that while the Christian world and the
Jewish world would respect places of worship, the Muslim world cannot
be held to the same level of accountability. Did you expect any
different? No, I did not, though it would be a mistake to assume that
knowing they would destroy these holy places in any way lessens the
We can’t say that we expected no better, of course, because that
would be deemed racist and wrong. It would be insulting to the
honorable religion of Islam, even though it is the truth. It would
imply that their values are different than ours, even though they
are. It would suggest that their culture is one that lacks respect
for other religions, one deeply embedded in violence and one that
cannot tolerate and respect the beliefs of others. We can’t say all
that, and so the lie will live on, the destruction go unpunished, the
truth left unsaid.
The world will quietly offer Israel their condolences and throughout
the world, in places like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and
even in Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Ukraine, people will wonder
if maybe they could destroy a nearby synagogue, too. Why should the
land on which these buildings sit continue to be “wasted” when there
are no Jews around? Could there be a way to rid Europe and Arab
countries of these buildings in which Jews once prayed? The first
step, of course, is to deny.
Palestinian President Abu Mazen has become a rabbi, apparently. He
can now determine the holiness of a synagogue and has issued his
rabbinic decree that these buildings are no longer synagogues, no
longer holy. If you take the wooden pews, the musical instruments,
the Bibles, hymnals, altar furnishings and vestments out of a church,
is it then permissible to burn it down? Does it lose its sanctity
because the inner contents have been removed?
Perhaps others are wondering if they too could use the Palestinian
excuse that a building stripped and desecrated is no longer holy and
can be destroyed. How many Jewish cemeteries are there in Europe? Are
Jews ever likely to return to Iraq? Must Tunisia protect the
remaining synagogues? What of Morocco?
Luckily, our holy places will be saved by the most unlikely source.
Abu Mazen has one problem in making his claim believable. His own
people reject his words. Watch the pictures of them dancing on the
rooftops of these buildings, see how they set fire to these holy
In his mad rush for the border, Ariel Sharon gave the Palestinians
millions of dollars in infrastructure, public buildings, lighting,
roads and more. And yet the pictures in the media are all the same.
The Palestinian mobs are frantic and out of control in their
bloodthirsty quest to destroy the synagogues, because they recognize
that these places are holy to the Jews. Of course they are
synagogues, today as they were yesterday. The ground sacred, the
What interest would they have in simply destroying a building? They
will scavenge around and take what they can – but the synagogues are
being destroyed. Why burn and damage them if not for the intense
hate-filled desire to destroy something that represents Judaism, a
non-Muslim place of worship?
But it is not only the pictures from Gaza that cause me great pain
today, not just the hatred and destruction that we all knew was
inevitable. Add in a debate going on now in England, civilized
England. At first glance, it seems like it is a different topic
entirely, and yet, in its own way, it is the same debate, albeit in
a more civilized environment. Perhaps commemorating Holocaust Day is
a little too Jewish, say a team of advisors to Prime Minister Tony
Blair. Perhaps it would be more politically correct to call it
Genocide Day, so as to avoid insulting England’s growing Muslim
Words fail me. How many fronts can we fight at one time? How
appropriate that this debate would be raised on days when synagogues
are again being burned and destroyed. Would England deny the unique
place the Holocaust has in world history? Are the Holocaust and the
few days we commemorate it not sacred? There have been many attempts
at genocide throughout the centuries, but none were as systematic, as
civilized and as endorsed as the Holocaust.
Nowhere, never, was the machine of a government focused so totally on
obliterating all traces of a religion or people in such an efficient
and barbaric way, while being accompanied by the silence of nations
who could have, should have, done something.
Not since Nazi Germany have so many synagogues been destroyed. Muslim
intolerance is well known and yet the world continues to be silent.
Why was the world silent when 2,000 Hindi temples were destroyed by
Muslims in India? When will the world finally react to Islamic
religious intolerance? Would the world remain silent if 25 churches
were burned in one day? Where is the Vatican’s voice of outrage as
the synagogues in Gaza burn? I can only imagine what fury there would
be if Israel were to now demolish 25 mosques on Israeli soil.
Just three days ago, I stood in the Yamit Yeshiva in N’vei Dekalim,
the famous synagogue in the shape of a Jewish star. Rabbi Abu Mazen
has promised that this building will be destroyed. Apparently, its
continued existence would be an insult to the Palestinians, who do
not believe in the sanctity of any religion but their own.
As I walked around, there was a swirl of action. Soldiers moved
quickly back and forth removing whatever could be taken. The books
had been removed, the holy Torah scrolls long since taken away so
they would not see the shame of what would come. The High Court had
not yet ruled whether Israel should destroy the buildings in
anticipation of the desecration Abu Mazen and his government was
promising, but the soldiers knew destruction was coming soon.
In the end, the Israeli government made the correct choice. We will
not destroy synagogues. We will not send a signal to the world that
it is acceptable to wantonly destroy the holy places of our religion
or another. And so, today, as yesterday and tomorrow, mosques will
be safe in Israel, while synagogues burn elsewhere.
Jews do not destroy places of worship even if the alternative in the
end is the desecration of these Houses of God at the hands of rioting
mobs who worship terror, incite violence and care not for any
buildings or any people, not even their own. The world will not admit
it, it can’t be said or written, but Jews honor churches, mosques and
synagogues throughout our country and in our communities. Since the
Holocaust, the Jewish synagogues in Europe have largely been
protected and public outcries have often resulted when desecrations
Israelis even protect Arab holy sites when they are built on top of
our holy places, as they are on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,
Joseph’s Tomb, Samuel’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in
Make no mistake, the face of the future state of Palestine can be
seen in the actions of Palestinians today. There is an impossible
divide between our culture and theirs, our dreams and the nightmares
they would force upon us.
Jews made their stand yesterday by not destroying the synagogues.
Palestinians made their stand today by burning and desecrating them.
The remaining question now is what the Christian world will do. Will
you express outrage at Islamic intolerance or continued silence?
by Paula R. Stern