It’s not a big story. No bullet was fired, no Palestinian was arrested without reason, soldiers did not scare children in their beds or harass elderly women. This story pales in comparison to the injustices that occur every day in the territories. Nonetheless, something big and disturbing is hiding in this small story: a feeling of Israeli lordliness and Jewish ethnocentrism.
Last week the IDF held a farewell ceremony for Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Turgeman, head of the technological and logistics directorate, who is retiring from the military. The retirement ceremony was held with all the proper decorum: Speeches were made, flags flew overhead. But the IDF chose to hold this military celebration at the entrance to the Mar Saba Monastery in the West Bank.
The monastery is an impressive site, but it is also a holy religious site, and is located in Area C of the West Bank, under full Israeli civil and security control per the Oslo Accords. It is owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The monastery “is a holy site in which the monks stay in an atmosphere of quiet, silence and prayer,” said the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Atallah Hanna.
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This did not prevent the IDF from holding the ceremony there, even without coordinating it with the monastery, with the Etzion Brigade, which is in charge of the region, or the Civil Administration. The Civil Administration only heard about the ceremony from a call of complaint from the monastery while the ceremony was in progress. It seems someone in the IDF wanted to celebrate at the beautiful monastery – so they did. What can you do to the IDF? Call in the Palestinian police, which have no authority in Area C?
As expected, the IDF is hiding behind its culture of carelessness. “After an examination, it turned out that coordination of expectations with the relevant parties was deficient, as a result of a misunderstanding regarding the event in the parking lot outside the monastery,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office said. So it was simply a misunderstanding. There is no reason to conclude from this that the IDF shows disrespect for the holy sites of other religions.
Hanna condemned the IDF’s actions: “It is unacceptable for Israel, whether it is the army or settlers, to ignore the sanctity of the place and hold a provocative festival without consideration for religious sentiment.”
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“It surprised us, and we hope that this will not be repeated,” the Secretariat General of the Jerusalem Greek Orthodox Patriarchate told Haaretz.
But in regard to anything that involves respect for the other, their property, sovereignty, the land they own and their holy sites, experience teaches us that every event is just a precedent that serves to justify the one that will follow. So it is not surprising that on Palestinian social media, the video clip showing the preparations for the event bore the caption: “The Mar Saba Monastery is under threat of Judaization.”
Israel is constantly eating away at Area C – by expanding settlements, or by settlers harassing Palestinians and their property. Now it’s been proven once again that for the IDF, the whole West Bank is a closed military zone.