This affair has everything, aside from sanctity. There's narrow political considerations, populism, hatred and another attempt by disengagement opponents to sear into people's consciousness the recognition that the other side is an agglomeration of animals.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz exhibited the height of sanctimoniousness when he revealed last week that he was raised as a Jew. Two weeks ago he wasn't a Jew. That was when he led the process of destroying the empty buildings that served as synagogues and told the government that "if we leave them, the day after we'll get a tsunami wave of Hamas and not a single synagogue will remain."
But Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called him and cried, and Mofaz altered his position. The same rabbi exhibited the height of evilness when, while still crying about the destruction of empty buildings, he said the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans deserved it because they're "blacks who don't learn Torah."
And the most irritating was Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, who explained at length why he favored destroying the buildings and then announced: I'm voting against. I annul my opinion in favor of the rabbis' opinion. Does Sheetrit also support a Khomeinist state? This is nothing other than fear of the Likud voters, which has gripped Sheetrit as well.
The rabbis have humiliated the Torah of Israel. A synagogue acquires its sanctity from the Torah scrolls and the worshipers. As soon as they are no longer there, what remains is stone and concrete. The rabbis had no religious reasons, only a political one: to prove to everyone that they are stronger, more influential and can bend the government to their will.
The Palestinians declared from the beginning that they would not preserve the empty structures that had been synagogues. They have neither the power nor the will to do so. For them, the buildings are symbols of occupation. The goal of the rabbis and the right-wingers was to put the Palestinians in an impossible situation, to prove to the Israelis and the world that these are "barbarians."
Indeed, President Moshe Katsav said patronizingly that "they didn't respect the sacred objects of Judaism," and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said: "This is a barbaric act of people who have no respect for sacred sites." We do have respect, he implied.
But the fact is that out of 140 mosques abandoned in 1948, 100 have been completely destroyed and 40 are either in an advanced state of deterioration or serve as stores, warehouses or garages.
If some of the synagogues do remain intact, right-wing extremists will want to turn them into the "orange rock." Settler leader Hanan Porat said this week: "If the situation changes, of course we will be happy to return there and pray; it's a place of Zion toward which we must look." Yosef Elnekaveh, the regional rabbi of Gush Katif, was clearer: "We will yet return to these synagogues and purify them speedily in our lifetime, Amen." It was a sort of call to arms for the hilltop youth to return to Gaza - to the synagogues - and thus cause difficulties for the Israel Defense Forces and the state.
Quiet and calm on the Gaza border are a kind of disaster for them. They want fire, Qassams and reprisal operations to prove that the disengagement was a failure. The extreme right wants the nutcases to carry out reprisals in the mosques - especially at the Temple Mount - to ignite Armageddon and simultaneously "cleanse" the country of Arabs.
The time has come to say what is truly sacred: the 194 officers and soldiers who were killed while defending 7,500 residents of Gush Katif. They are the ones who must be remembered forever. It is they, not stones and concrete, for whom we must mourn. It's true that Ariel Sharon stumbled a bit. He began a brave process, against the consensus, but in the end he succumbed to the pressure of the rabbis.
From a wider perspective, though, it's clear that the extreme right has failed. They promised a popular opposition of tens of thousands of people, suicide in the sea, Jewish martyrs, the paralysis of the entire country, mass refusal of military orders, and the disengagement being carried out under Palestinian fire. None of this took place.
And so the synagogue affair will also leave the world. The Philadelphi route will be stabilized, and most of the population, those who are sane and happy over the withdrawal from Gaza, will lead toward a compromise in the West Bank too.
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