Weapons of Mass Distraction

Can you believe it? Groups hiding arms in places of worship, schools, even kindergartens. Welcome to pre-state Israel, where comparisons with Gaza are not welcome.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.
At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The synagogue is bursting with worshippers. It is Yom Kippur. They are asking forgiveness. They have updated their accounting of the soul.

It’s hard to know whether anyone noticed the blue sign near the entrance – installed by, among others, the Culture and Sports Ministry – which reads, “Rishpon’s settlers came to live here in 1936. Two months later, the disturbances of 1936-1939 broke out To protect their property, the settlers acquired weapons but the British, who were the rulers of the land, prohibited the possession of weapons. They were therefore concealed in a hiding place under the foundations of the first public building. In that building was a grocery, a clinic and a kindergarten. The entrance to the secret weapons storage was underneath the kindergarten toilet.”

Hmmm. Weapons storage in a kindergarten? A weapons hiding place under a clinic? The entrance through the kindergarten toilet? Woe to the eyes that read such words! The Haganah [the pre-state Jewish underground army] used the civilian population as human shields. It took cynical advantage of that population, hiding weapons in clinics and kindergartens, and thus endangered their lives.

The conclusion is clear: The children of Rishpon were a legitimate target. Responsibility for their deaths was on the shoulders of the Haganah, which used them unscrupulously and put their lives at risk.

The British had the right – not to say the obligation – to blow up that kindergarten, as well as the adjacent clinic.

Weapons concealed in their basement. Just like at the Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip. Just like in Gaza’s UNRWA schools, which became shelters for war refugees. Israel claimed that weapons were being concealed in the basements and, therefore, those sites could be bombed.

The British, by the way, searched Rishpon and found nothing. They did not consider the possibility of blowing up the kindergarten because it might be used to store weapons.

Rishpon was not alone. Some of these hiding places were “national” and others were “personal.” There was no Jewish settlement in the country that did not have a “slik” – as these storage sites were known – all in the heart of “civilian population concentrations,” of course. At Ein Ganim there was a slik in a synagogue (permitted to bombard); at Nahalal, it was under the cow-urine removal pump (bombard it); the Aldema slik was in the courtyard of a home in the Borochov neighborhood of Givatayim (bomb it); the slik at Café Piltz was in the drinks storage room (demolish it). The Etzel pre-state underground had its own slik under the Torah Ark in the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Weapons in a synagogue? That was the cynicism of these organizations. Schools served as training installations, even as weapons production workshops.

At night, young members of the Haganah were sworn-in at the schools in military ceremonies. City streets now have signs proudly telling where weapons production facilities were located, or ammunition stores or training facilities. That’s how liberation movements, guerilla and terror organizations work: in the heart of the civilian population. In crowded Gaza, there is no other choice.

There are many Israelis who know all this. Historians and veterans of these organizations know the location of every slik. But almost no one would dare make a historical comparison. In the face of Israeli propaganda that accused Hamas of using a civilian population, in the face of the abundance of justifications and dubious pretexts to bomb and bombard mosques, schools, clinics and places of shelter – just because weapons were stored there – no one in Israel stood up and said, “And what about our organizations that fought against the rulers of the land?”

In Israel, no comparison between Jews and Palestinians is allowed on almost any matter. Hamas is a terror group and Etzel is not. But the truth is that the Palestinians are facing a more brutal and longer occupation, and therefore their opposition is more violent.

Since the disturbances of 1936, the rulers of the land have changed but the ban on the arming of part of the population remains in force. Israel may arm itself as much as it likes – it is, after all, not a belligerent country, but rather only seeks to protect itself. But in Gaza (and, to a great extent, in the West Bank as well), not even cap guns are allowed. The Palestinians need to hide the prohibited weapons from the new rulers of the land. They do this in mosques, schools and clinics, just like the Haganah and Etzel once did. The entrance is through the kindergarten toilet, just like in Rishpon.

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