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August 28, 2015 | 13th Elul 5775

Rashomon in the Galilee

Galilee Diary #412, October 19, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein


"And each man will fail because of his brother…" (Leviticus 26:37) This means he will be punished for his brother's sin, meaning that all Israel are responsible for each other. This applies to the case when he could have protested, but did not do so.
-Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 27b

The opinion piece I wrote for the Hebrew-Arabic internet newspaper, which I presented here last week, brought a large number of responses both on and off line. This conversation led me to some further reflections on the event and its significance, and to publish a further comment on dugrinet.

What really happened on Yom Kippur in Acco is not at all a matter of agreement. Everyone seems to know an eye-witness who saw something different. In the grand scheme of things maybe the details don't matter; but on the other hand, maybe they do, and each different "narrative" supports a different distribution of responsibility and different interpretation of the meaning of the events.

1. All agree that Tawfik Jamal drove his car into a mixed neighborhood in the new city of Acco about midnight on Yom Kippur eve. There is no agreement as to whether he drove slowly and quietly, just coming to pick up his daughter – or whether he drove back and forth, screeching his tires and playing the radio at full volume.

2. All agree that a confrontation took place with Jewish young men who were out and about. There is no agreement as to whether the confrontation included only verbal sparring, or the stoning of Jamal's car (press photos later showed it overturned). There seems to be agreement that Jamal and his companions went into the apartment where his daughter was visiting. It is not clear if they then threw stones at the Jews outside, or vice versa, or both.

3. All agree that a mob of masked young Arab men from the old city (almost entirely populated by Arabs) then stormed through the new city, smashing windows of stores and cars, and confronted Jews near the site of the original incident. There seems to be agreement that rumors were spread in the old city that Jamal had been killed. There is not agreement that the loudspeakers of the mosques were used to urge the rioters on.

4. There is agreement that Jews and Arabs confronted each other and the police later on at the train station – the rocks and broken glass are still there for all to see. And there is agreement that several Arab homes in mixed neighborhoods were torched in the next few days. Overall, no one was hospitalized; several from both sides were arrested.

One question that arises is: if A provokes B and B responds violently – is all the guilt on A? There seems to be an assumption in discussion of the events that the problem is the provocation; but why isn't there a moral problem with those who rise to the bait? This applies to both sides.

In condemning, in my piece in dugrinet, the Jewish rioters – and the failure of our religious leaders to take a stand – I by no means intended to justify or defend violence by the Arabs – or to accept the silence of their religious leaders. Their behavior, no matter which narrative you believe, was vicious and without any justification. Israel is a modern state with a proper court system. Investigations must be held and the guilty parties punished, without prejudice.

My comments about the Jews were made as a Jew: What Moslems and Christians do reflects on their religions – that is their problem. But the Jews in the story represent all Jews, including me; when Jews behave un-Jewishly – it is my problem, willy-nilly.

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