Sunday, 21 April 2019

Purim in Hebron - A Celebration of the daily violence and ritual humiliation meted out to the Palestinians

The Legacy of Purim & the Book of Esther Preventing Genocide or Celebrating Genocide?

As Passover begins I thought it would be worth looking back to a previous Jewish festival, Purim. Every picture tells a story and none more so than these pictures of the joy of the settlers as Purim, which was celebrated a month ago, is used as the occasion to glory in the daily humiliation of the Palestinians and as an affirmation of their innate supremacy.
The settlers live literally on top of the Palestinians and thrown their rubbish and detritus on top of them.  Only netting prevents this rubbish landing on the Palestinian homes. They can do this without a second though because the Hebrew Bible tell them this is so, or at least so they claim.
When I was a boy Purim was a happy and joyful occasion, when Queen Esther prevailed on her husband, the Persian King Ahasuerus not to carry out the wishes of his evil Royal Vizier, Haman, which was to destroy the Jews.  Instead he is hanged on the gallows that he had built for Mordechai, Esther’s uncle.
The Book of Esther is  one of the five Megillot or scrolls and is located in the Ketuvim, the third and final section of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. What we were not told was that Esther secured the agreement of the King not only to kill Haman’s 10 sons but 500 other people in Shushan. Not satisfied with this Esther asked the King to grant another day of killing. In all 75,000 were murdered.
Settlers Celebrate
Happily this was just a fairy tale, a myth, without any substantiation (apart from the name of the King who was Xerxes). Even the Jewish Encyclopedia doubts its authenticity.
But to the settlers of Hebron Haman’s followers are visible in the presence of the 200,000 Palestinians in the city. The Jewish religion thus provides a seamless tapestry of support to the most violent and atavistic of settlers.
There is a very good article on Mondweiss We planned the Purim party, then my partner actually read the Book of Esther about the background to the Book of Esther.
A subsequent article by Ahmad Al-Bazz and Anne Paq gives us the background to these pictures in which settlers of Hebron, together with the Israeli army, celebrate the fact that Palestinians are under their heel. The Bible and Colonialism march hand in hand.  Ahmad al-Bazz and Anne Paq write below

Photo Essay: Israeli settlers celebrate Purim in Hebron

Today, around 300 Israeli settlers marched down Shuhada Street towards the Ibrahimi mosque in the H2 area of Hebron to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, under the protection of Israeli soldiers and police. The starting point of the parade had been announced as “Elor Azaria” junction, a reference to the spot where Azaria, an Israeli soldier and medic, had killed an incapacitated Palestinian in March 2016 and was subsequently sentenced by an Israeli court. He was freed from prison only after having served 9 months.
Around 300 Israeli settlers march down Shuhada Street to the Ibrahimi mosque and the Cave of the Patriarchs to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the story in the book of Esther where the Jewish people were saved from a plan to wipe them out during the ancient Persian Empire. The holiday is often celebrated with festive gatherings where people dress in costumes.
An Israeli child dressed with a keffiyeh and fake suicide bomb belt participates in the settler Purim parade in the H2 area of the West Bank city of Hebron, March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
A Israeli woman dressed as an “Arab” wearing a fake baby and a weapon marching in the settler Purim parade in the H2 area of the West Bank city of Hebron, March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
The march was accompanied by loud music and many participants dressed up in costumes, some of them wearing keffiyehs and supposedly Arab clothes with fake suicide bombs, while some Palestinian residents watched from behind their fenced windows and were not allowed to pass. Some participants were also dressed up as members as TIPH, the international human rights observers who were recently expelled from the city by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The departure of the international observers from Hebron was celebrated by the Israeli settlers, who also routinely harass journalists and international activists who document the human rights abuses that Palestinians face in the area.

Since 1997, Hebron has been divided into H2 and H1.  The H2 area in Hebron is under full Israeli control and is inhabited by approximately 35,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers who are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers. Palestinians in the area face daily harrassment by the Israeli settlers and soldiers and impediments to their freedom of movement. Shuhada street, once a bustling street in the city, has become a ghost town, and hundreds of its Palestinians shops have been closed.
Israeli settlers dance on top of Palestinian homes during a Purim parade in the H2 area of the West Bank city of Hebron, March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
The day before the march, it was reported that the Israeli forces raided the Haj Ziad Jaber School in Hebron and took away a 10-year-old Palestinian boy. The march also took place as four Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces in the previous 24 hours.

Two Israeli settlers harass a Palestinian man during a Purim parade in the H2 area of the West Bank city of Hebron, March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
The main checkpoints leading to the area where the parade was taking place were closed to Palestinians during the event.
During the Purim holiday, Israel has imposed a four-day closure on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which will end on midnight on Saturday.
Israeli soldiers prevent Palestinians from accessing where the Purim Parade is taking place

An Israeli child is dressed up as a cowboy (ActiveStills.org)

We planned the Purim party, then my partner actually read the Book of Esther…

This Sunday Jews all over the world will celebrate the holiday of Purim, which commemorates the escape of a Jewish community in ancient Persia from a genocide planned for them by an evil official named Haman – the story told in the Old Testament’s Book of Esther.
The book has no particular religious content (it’s the only one in the Old Testament that doesn’t even mention God), and apparently most Bible scholars (even the Jewish Encyclopedia) doubt its historicity – it’s generally considered a “historical novella.” But on the surface it’s an uplifting story, a seemingly innocent expression of ethnic pride and a celebration of courage and resilience in the face of persecution. And the holiday itself, at least as American Jews typically observe it, is a festive, even raucous occasion, featuring foot-stamping, play-acting, noisemakers, and lots of hamantaschen, a special-for-the-day kind of pastry filled with prunes or poppy seeds.
That’s why, a couple of decades back, my partner Jean, who’s half Jewish and half Irish Catholic by background and thoroughly pagan by inclination, decided to add a Purim celebration to a St. Patrick’s Day-spring solstice party she was planning for our then-young daughters; she figured it would be a fun way to give them a taste of their Jewish heritage. Then she dug out a Bible and actually read the Book of Esther….
For those who’ve never read the book or don’t recall it, the heroine is a young woman who was raised by her cousin, Mordecai, in the Persian city of Shusan, then the capital of a large multiethnic empire, supposedly extending from India to Ethiopia. The king, Ahasuerus, ditches his queen, Vashti, because she refuses his command to “show the peoples and the officials her beauty” at a drunken banquet. (His aides argue that he has to get rid of her or else “this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands.” Lest anyone miss the point, the king follows up with letters “to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.” In 1877 Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti’s disobedience the “first stand for woman’s rights.”)
An Israeli settler dressed as a member of the international human rights observer group TIPH that was recently barred from the city of Hebron participates in a Purim parade in the H2 area on March 21, 2019. (Photo: Activestills.org)
In search of a new queen, officials gather beautiful young virgins from throughout the kingdom. Esther is among the chosen. On Mordecai’s advice, she doesn’t disclose her ethnicity. After the women complete a year-long course of cosmetic treatments under the supervision of a royal eunuch, Ahasuerus tries them out, one by one, in bed, and ends up choosing Esther to be his queen.
Shortly after she was crowned, Ahasuerus appoints an official named Haman his prime minister and orders that everyone bow down before him. Mordecai, hanging around the gate of the palace, refuses to do so. Haman is infuriated, and upon learning that Mordecai is a Jew (but apparently ignorant of his connection to the new queen), he decides to retaliate by convincing the king that his Jewish subjects are disloyal and all of them must be killed.
The king dutifully issues a decree to that effect, but before it is carried out, Mordecai persuades Esther to approach the king – a dangerous move, even for the queen – disclose her background, and plead for mercy for herself and her community. Ahasuerus sides with his queen, orders Haman hanged, and appoints Mordecai to replace him. The Jews are spared, and there’s great rejoicing among them. Ever since, Jews have commemorated their deliverance and celebrated the heroism of Esther and Mordecai.
That’s the Purim story as I learned it in my Conservative Sunday school back in the 1950s (except that I don’t suppose anyone highlighted the patriarchal message associated with Vashti’s fate). But when Jean read the biblical text, we discovered that the story didn’t end just with rejoicing. Although Esther had actually asked Ahasuerus simply to issue an order revoking Haman’s genocidal decree, the king, according to the Bible, didn’t actually do so. Instead, he told his queen and her uncle to “write as you please about the Jews, in the name of the king.” The order they composed didn’t merely call off the planned genocide – it turned the tables, authorizing the Jews “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them” and to plunder their property, all on the very day Haman had designated for the attack.
In the event, the Jews didn’t bother to loot anything, the Bible tells us, but they killed Haman’s 10 sons and 500 other people in Shusan alone. At the end of the day, when all this was reported to Ahasuerus, he asked Esther if she had any further favors to request. In response, she asked not only to have the corpses of Haman’s 10 sons hanged from the gallows, but also for the royal go-ahead for another day of killing. The king granted her wish, the sons’ bodies were strung up, and another 300 people were killed in Shusan. Around the empire, the Jews did in a total of 75,000 of their “enemies”!
In short, the Jews faced real danger, but they managed to survive, and then they lashed out in an orgy of vengeful violence at people they considered enemies, even though, on the evidence, the victims had nothing to do with the original threat. Sound familiar?
Among American Jews, at least among the liberal majority, the bloody denouement of the Purim story is rarely mentioned, but I’m told it’s well known in Israel. In any case, the story – along with other gruesome tales of religiously sanctified tribal violence in Joshua and other books of the Bible – has surely played some role, direct or indirect, in shaping Jewish culture and psychology in both countries. In a book called Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence, historian Elliott Horowitz uncovers a long history, going back at least to the early Middle Ages, of Jewish attacks on their gentile neighbors during Purim (as well as gentile violence against Jews, especially, as is often the case, when Purim coincided with the Christian Holy Week). In the West Bank, especially in Hebron, settlers regularly celebrate the holiday with pogroms against the Palestinians. In 1994, it was on Purim that Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein opened fire in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Muslim worshipers and wounding 125.
And, of course, it’s not just Purim – Deir Yassin, Tantura, Qibya, Sabra and Shatila, Operation Cast Lead, and so many more massacres took place on different dates, but the same murderous mindset underlies them all.
Progressive Jews often claim that Zionism, or at least its cruder and more violent expressions, contradict the real essence of Judaism, which they believe lies in the prophets’ cries for justice or in the modern tradition of social activism among some Jews. But Purim is a good occasion to remind ourselves that there’s another, darker side – a history of tribalistic violence – that’s at least as deeply rooted in our traditions.
As for that children’s party, Jean did bake hamantaschen, along with Irish soda bread and half-moon cookies to represent the solstice. But we decided to skip the retelling of the Purim story.

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