Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sunday, Palestinian mobs torched and destroyed four synagogues left behind by Israel in the evacuated Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority (PA) police did nothing to intervene, while PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) justified the violence as the people “expressing their emotions.”

Torching houses of worship, just like the lootings, beatings and home burnings against a Christian Arab town near Ramallah at the beginning of this month by Palestinians shouting “Allahhu Akbar” (God is Great) as the PA police stood by, bode ill for peace in the Middle East.

Religious hatred inspired by jihadi Islam is clearly no local matter. It is part of a broad conflict unfolding between radical Islam on the one hand and Christianity, Judaism, the Bahai faith and Buddhism on the other. There are also violent rifts between radical Islam and its moderate variety, and between extremist Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan, Afghanistan, by the Taliban regime in 2001 was another example of the violent intolerance radical Islam preaches.

The highly symbolic synagogue burning in response to Israel’s quest for peace should alert those who believe withdrawal from Gaza “a step in the right direction” to the futility of assuaging hatred with concessions. They are likely to wind up as bitterly disappointed as those who believed in the Oslo “peace process.” It sends the wrong message: Terror and violence pay.

Sunday, hate crimes were once again committed in full view of the world — and the world kept mum. Major news agencies withdrew any mention of synagogue burnings in less than 24 hours. This is not the first time a house of worship has been desecrated in the Holy Land.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was occupied by Hamas and Tanzim Palestinian terrorists in spring 2002 and turned into a veritable pigsty, with priests held hostage. In the end, Israeli negotiators allowed the terrorists free passage to Europe, and the international media barely covered what had been done inside the church. The fact Israel refused to storm the building because of its religious significance earned it no credit. The terrorist violence was essentially excused.

Nor is this is the first time highly symbolic and brutal acts have met silent acceptance and appeasement. Just a few years ago, a Palestinian mob in Ramallah lynched two Israeli reservists, with the murderers triumphantly displaying their blood-soaked hands before the gleeful mob. The PA, in an attempted cover-up, later confiscated tapes of the lynching from the Western media, which cooperated and stood down.

Hate crimes are acts aimed at the group represented by the individuals attacked, or their symbolic objects, like places of worship, rather than the individuals. These highly symbolic acts of violence, such as murdering children, bombing buses and religious ceremonies (such as the Passover meal in Netanya in 2002), and now, synagogue burnings, are clearly aimed at demoralizing Israeli civilians.

In 2001, 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass was deliberately shot by a sniper while in the arms of her father. In 2002, Kobi Mandel, 11, originally from Silver Spring, Md., and a friend were brutally murdered in a cave a short walk from their house in Gush Etsion, a pre-1948 Judean Hills rural area. Kobi’s head and body were smashed repeatedly with rocks and the walls scrawled with anti-Jewish slogans and curses written in the child’s blood.

The hate crime of synagogue burning is nothing new. The practice, prevalent in Europe for centuries, was enthusiastically embraced by the Nazis in Europe. During 1938 Kristallnacht, most German synagogues were smashed, and more than 300 Jews murdered, a prologue to later horrors. In the 1941 pro-Nazi riots in Baghdad, synagogues were destroyed and hundreds of Jews killed.

More recently, al Qaeda and its affiliates targeted the ancient synagogue on the island of Jerba in Tunis and the two Turkish synagogues attacked in 2003.

Radical Islamist clerics justify these barbaric acts. The Palestinian Clerics Association’s Sheikh Mohammad Ali said last month, that when “even an inch of Muslim land is occupied, Jihad is a personal duty, a religious obligation incumbent upon everyone.” Since the entire land of Israel is considered “occupied” by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terrorist organizations subsidized by Saudi Arabia and Iran, the stage is set for continued violent attacks.

Some Muslim clerics have declared that while suicide bombings in Arab countries are forbidden, they are “not suicide” in Israel. Others claim that “Andaluz” — Spain — also is occupied territory, to be liberated in due course.

Today, the West is willing to offer Abu Mazen more than $3 billion in economic aid — while the rhetoric of Jihad rings loud in the mosques and on the airwaves.

The Palestinian Authority leadership has done nothing to disarm Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or its own terrorist Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. It instead promotes genocidal hatred and then steps aside while synagogues burn or Jews and Christians are attacked. Not much at all has changed since Yasser Arafat failed as the leader of a would-be new state, but the stakes are getting even higher. If a Palestinian state is founded on the lethal mix of Arab chauvinism and radical Islam, it will serve as a base for international terrorism against Israel, Europe and the U.S., with al Qaeda and Hezbollah calling the shots.

Burying our heads in the sand will simply not bring peace one step closer. Terror must stop prior to negotiations.

Ariel Cohen is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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