Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brainwashing and Coexistence in Hebron

Evelyn Gordon
18 February '11

While most of the world is avidly following events in Iran, Bahrain, and Yemen, Israeli leftists are preoccupied with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plan to promote school field trips to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpela) in Hebron. Such trips, they charge, would constitute “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion”; they would educate against “tolerance and peace” and “intensify nationalist feelings, faith in power and blindness to the injustices of the occupation.” These claims are downright Orwellian.

First, as Sa’ar noted, Machpela is a foundational site in Jewish history. The Bible describes Abraham’s purchase of it as a burial site for his wife, and the subsequent burial there of six of the Jewish people’s seven founding patriarchs and matriarchs. Later, Hebron was the capital of David’s kingdom before he relocated to Jerusalem. Excising Hebron from Jewish history simply isn’t possible.

Thus, if leftists truly believe they can promote their land-for-peace program only by keeping children ignorant of this history — that letting children learn about the site’s importance would “intensify nationalist feelings” and turn them against “peace” — they may as well give up. No viable political program can be based on a Stalinist rewrite of history. And the only “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion” in this story is the left’s attempt to dictate such a rewrite to advance its political goals.

Equally outrageous, however, is the claim that visiting Machpela educates against tolerance and coexistence. Admittedly, Jewish-Arab tensions run high in Hebron, though “the occupation” is hardly the sole culprit: even before Israel was founded, Arab Hebronites periodically massacred their Jewish neighbors (see, for instance, 1929 and 1936).

But Machpela itself is an unparalleled example of coexistence: the only holy site in the world that is simultaneously an active synagogue and an active mosque. Usually, it’s open to Jewish and Muslim worshippers alike; on a handful of Jewish and Muslim holidays, it’s reserved for members of the celebrating faith. True, there is no intermingling; Jews and Muslims are kept separate for their mutual protection. Yet both can worship freely at their shared holy site.

Contrast this with the situation on the Temple Mount, where Israel abdicated control to the Muslim religious authorities. Jews and Christians are strictly forbidden to pray on the Mount; they can’t even open a Bible or move their lips in silent prayer. If they do, they are immediately thrown out. Nor can Jews even visit freely: only a few at a time are allowed in.

And perhaps that’s why the left is so upset: visiting Machpela might give students the idea that while Jewish control protects both Jewish and Muslim freedom of worship, Muslim control protects only the latter. Worse, it might give them the idea that leftists care only about Muslim rights, not Jewish ones: after all, they applaud the ban on Jewish worship on the Mount, yet are outraged by the Israeli-enforced freedom of worship at Machpela.

Clearly, neither realization would advance the left’s political program. But if leftists really want to promote peace, lobbying their Palestinian partners to start respecting Jewish religious rights would be far more productive than trying to outlaw history.

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