A war crime took place in Jerusalem this morning. In a house of worship. Two men armed with a meat cleaver, a gun and an axe, took it upon themselves to slaughter unarmed noncombatants at prayer.
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"I've seen many, many incidents here and abroad, but I don't ever remember the sight of something like this," said Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the ZAKA emergency service.
"Like pictures we’ve seen of the Holocaust - seeing Jews wrapped in prayer shawls, phylacteries on their arms and heads, lying in an enormous pool of blood on the floor of a synagogue," he said.
In this arena of holiness and obscenity, we have become all too inured to murderers who invoke God's name – as they did on Tuesday morning – while they massacre God's children.
And, just as ritual guides worshippers at prayer, there is a kind of ritual which informs the actions of those who find ways to explain away, legitimize, or otherwise support their crimes.
We first learned this 20 years ago, when a physician named Baruch Goldstein took an assault rifle and executed 29 Muslims kneeling in prayer. After the attack, which took place in a Hebron shrine sacred to both Jews and Muslims, Jewish extremists created a fiction to suit the crime, feting Goldstein as a saint martyred in the act of preventing - the extremists' invention – a planned terror attack.
On Tuesday, not an hour had passed after the synagogue atrocity, that Hamas and other Palestinian spokesmen had called the attack a "natural response" to the crimes of Israel's occupation, with extremists casting the killers as defenders of Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque against the evil designs of encroachment by Jews.
This is the war that cannot be brought to an end here, the war between the Jerusalem Syndrome on one side and the Jerusalem Syndrome on the other – between the extremists on the Palestinian side who spread the lie that Israel intends to supplant Muslim worship at Al Aqsa mosque with a Third Temple, and those on the Jewish side whose incendiary actions and words, messianic, apocalyptic, potentially catastrophic, lend fuel and fire to the lie.
Thanks to the maniacal designs of extremists, none of the the rest of us, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian, are civilians any longer. We have become the hostages, the pawns, the targets of extremists, demogogues, the exploiters of misfortune and petty politicians who pass for our leaders.
On both sides, leaders go along with unconscionable actions by their own side, in order both to curry favor with a young hothead electorate and to keep more extreme leaders from taking power.
Overseas, meanwhile, another pattern of response obtains. Take the Tuesday attack, for example. This is what you can expect:
On hard leftist and avowedly anti-Israel social media sites, the first response will likely be one of two options.
The first is to turn a blind eye to terror atrocities committed by Palestinians until you can report on grass-roots Israeli hotheads calling for the deaths of all Arabs, or until hardline Israeli politicians say something racist or anti-democratic, or until Israel institutes a policy or operation which progressives can easily condemn.
The second option, which you can bet will be a popular one, will be to note that the synagogue's Har Nof neighborhood is built on the site of the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, site of a deadly 1948 attack by the pre-state Irgun and Lehi militias.
As if one massacre could ever somehow justify another.