Mamilla PoolBy Israel Shamir, 04/27/2001
Things move really fast nowadays. Just yesterday we hardly dared to call the Israeli policy of official discrimination against Palestinians by the harsh word "apartheid". Today, as Sharon's tanks and missiles pound defenseless cities and villages, the word barely suffices. It has become an unjustified insult to the white supremacists of South Africa. They, after all, did not use gun-ships and tanks against the natives, they did not lay siege to Soweto. They did not deny the humanity of their kaffirs. The Jewish supremacists made it one better. They have returned us, as if by magic wand, to the world of Joshua and Saul.
As the search for the right word continues, the courageous Robert Fisk proposes calling the events in Palestine a "civil war". If this is civil war, the slaughter of a lamb is a bullfight. The disparity of forces is too just too large. No, Virginia, it is not "civil war", it is creeping genocide.
This is the point in our saga, where the good Jewish guy is supposed to take out his hanky and exclaim: "how could we, eternal victims of persecutions, commit such crimes!" Well, do not hold your breath waitingfor this line. It happened before and it can happen again.
Jews are not more bloodthirsty than the rest of mankind. But the mad idea of being the Chosen ones, the idea of supremacy, whether of race or religion, is the moving force behind genocides. If you believe God choose your people to rule the world, if you think others but subhuman, you will be punished by the same God whose name you took in vain. Instead of a gentle frog, he would turn you into a murderous maniac.
When the Japanese got a whiff of this malady in 1930s, they raped Nanking and ate the liver of their prisoners. Germans, obsessed by the Aryan superiority complex, filled Baby Yar with corpses. As thoughtful readers of Joshua and Judges, the father-pilgrim founders of the United States tried on the "Chosen" crown and succeeded in nearly exterminating the Native American peoples.
The Jews are no exception. Outside of Jerusalem's Jaffa gate (Bab al-Halil), there was once a small neighbourhood called Mamilla, destroyed by real estate developers just a few years ago. In its place they created a monstrous "village" for the super-rich, abutting the plush Hilton Hotel. A bit further away, there is the old Mamilla cemetery of the Arab nobles and the Mamilla Pool, a water reservoir dug by Pontius Pilate. During the development works, the workers came across a burial cave holding hundreds of sculls and bones. It was adorned by a cross and a legend: "God alone knows their names". The Biblical Archaeology Review, published by the Jewish American Herschel Shanks, printed a long feature [i] by the Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich on this discovery.
The dead were laid to their eternal rest in AD 614, the most dreadful year in the history of Palestine until the 20th century. The Scottish scholar, Adam Smith, wrote in his Historical Geography of Palestine: until now, the terrible devastation of 614 is visible in the land, it could not be healed.
By 614, Palestine was a part of the Roman successor state, the Byzantine Empire. It was a prosperous, predominantly Christian land of well developed agriculture, of harnessed water systems, and carefully laid terraces. Pilgrims came in flocks to the Holy places, and the Constantine-built edifices of Holy Sepulchre and of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives were among the manmade wonders of the world. The Judean wilderness was enlivened by eighty monasteries, where precious manuscripts were collected and prayers offered. Fathers of the church, St Jerome of Bethlehem and Origenes of Caesarea, were still a living memory.
There was also a small wealthy Jewish community living in their midst, mainly in Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Their scholars had just completed their version of the Talmud, the codification of their faith, Rabbinic Judaism; but for instruction they deferred to the prevailing Jewish community in Persian Babylonia.
In 614, local Palestinian Jews allied with their Babylonian coreligionists and assisted the Persians in their conquest of the Holy Land. In the aftermath of the Persian victory, Jews perpetrated a massive holocaust of the Gentiles of Palestine. They burned the churches and the monasteries, killed monks and priests, burned books. The beautiful basilica of Fishes and Loaves in Tabgha, the Ascension on Mount of Olives, St Steven opposite Damascus Gate and the Hagia Sion on Mt Zion, are just at the top of the list of perished edifices. Indeed, very few churches survived the onslaught. The Great Laura of St Sabas, tucked away in the bottomless Ravine of Fire (Wadi an-Nar) was saved by its remote location and steep crags. The Church of Nativity miraculously survived: when Jews commanded its destruction, the Persians balked. They perceived the Magi mosaic above the lintel as the portrait of Persian kings.
This devastation was not the worst crime. When Jerusalem surrendered to the Persians, thousands of local Christians became prisoners of war, and were herded to the Mamilla Pool area. The Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich writes: "They were probably sold to the highest bidder. According to some sources, the Christian captives at Mamilla Pond were bought by Jews and were then slain on the spot". An eyewitness, Strategius of St Sabas, was more vivid: "Jews ransomed the Christians from the hands of the Persian soldiers for good money, and slaughtered them with great joy at Mamilla Pool, and it ran with blood". Jews massacred 60,000 Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem alone. The earth's population was probably about 50 million then, 100 times smaller than today. A few days later, the Persian military understood the magnitude of the massacre and stopped the Jews.
To his credit, the Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich does not try to shift the blame for the massacres onto the Persians, as it is usually done nowadays. He admits that "the Persian Empire was not based on religious principles and was indeed inclined to religious tolerance". This good man is clearly unsuitable to write for the New York Times. That paper's correspondent in Israel, Deborah Sonntag, would have no trouble describing the massacre as "retaliatory strike by the Jews who suffered under Christian rule".
The holocaust of the Christian Palestinians in year 614 is well documented and you will find it described in older books, for instance in the three volumes of Runciman's History of The Crusades. It has been censored out of modern guides and history books. It is a pity, as without this knowledge one cannot understand the provisions of the treaty between the Jerusalemites and Caliph Omar ibn Khattab, concluded in year 638. In the Sulh al Quds, as this treaty of capitulation is called, Patriarch Sofronius demanded, and the powerful Arab ruler agreed to protect the people of Jerusalem from the ferocity of the Jews.
After the Arab conquest, a majority of Palestinian Jews accepted the message of the Messenger, as did the majority of Palestinian Christians, albeit for somewhat different reasons. For local Christians, Islam was a sort of Nestorian Christianity, but without icons, without Constantinople's interference and without Greeks. (The Greek domination of the Palestinian church remains a problem for the local Christians to this very day.)
For ordinary local Jews, Islam was the return to the faith of Abraham and Moses, as they could not follow the intricacies of the new Babylonian faith anyway. The majority of them became Muslims and blended into Palestinian population. The accommodation of Jews to Islam did not stop in the 7th century. A thousand years later, in the 17th century, the greatest spiritual leaders of the new-founded Sephardi Jewish community of Palestine, Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza, the successors to the glorious Spanish mystic tradition of Ari the Saint of Safed, also embraced "the law of mercy", as they called Islam. Their descendants, the comrades of Ataturk, saved Turkey from the onslaught of the European troops during WWI.
Modern Jews do not have to feel guilty for the misdeeds of Jews long gone. No son is responsible for the sins of his father. Israel could have turned this mass grave with its Byzantine chapel and mosaics into a small and meaningful memorial, reminding its citizens of a horrible page in the history of the land and of the dangers of genocidal supremacy. Instead, the Israeli authorities preferred to demolish the tomb and create an underground parking lot in its place. It did not cause a murmur.
The Israeli guardians of the Jewish conscience, Amos Oz and others, have objected to the destruction of the ancient remains. No, not of the tomb at Mamilla. They ran a petition against the keepers of the Haram a-Sharif mosque complex for digging a ten-inch trench to lay a new pipe. It did not matter to them that, in an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading Israeli archaeologist of the area denied all relevance of the mosque works to science. They still described it as "a barbaric act of Muslims aimed at the obliteration of the Jewish heritage of Jerusalem". Among the signatories, I found, to my amazement and sorrow the name of Ronny Reich. One thinks, he might tell them who obliterated the vestiges of the Jewish heritage at Mamilla Pool.
Why do I find it necessary to tell the story of the Mamilla bloodbath? Because there is nothing more dangerous than the feeling of self-righteousness and perpetual victimhood reinforced by a one-sided historical narrative. Here again, the Jews are not unique. Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun [ii] wrote about Armenians inflamed by the story of their holocaust. They massacred thousands of their peaceful Azeri neighbours in the 1990s, and caused the uprooting of 800,000 native non-Armenians. "It's time to recognize all world's horrors", Margolis concludes.
Censored history creates a distorted picture of reality. Recognition of past is a necessary step on the way to sanity. The Germans and the Japanese have recognized the crimes of their fathers, have came to grips with their moral failings and have emerged as humbler, less boastful folks, akin to the rest of human race. We Jews have so far failed to exorcise the haughty spirit of the Chosenness, and found ourselves in a dire predicament.
That is why the idea of supremacy is still with us, still calling for genocide. In 1982, Amos Oz [iii] met an Israeli, who shared with the writer his dream of becoming a Jewish Hitler to the Palestinians. Slowly this dream is becoming a reality.
The Haaretz published an ad on its front page [iv], a fatwa, signed by a group of Rabbis. The Rabbis proclaimed the theological identification of Ishmael, i.e. the Arabs, with the Amalek. "Amalek" is mentioned in the Bible as the name of a tribe that caused trouble for the Children of Israel. In this story, the God of Israel commands His people to exterminate the Amalek tribe completely, including its livestock. King Saul botched the job: he exterminated them all right, but failed to kill nubile unwed maidens. This "failure" cost him his crown. The obligation to exterminate the people of Amalek is still counted among the tenets of the Jewish faith, though for centuries nobody made the identification of a living nation with the accursed tribe.
There was one exclusion showing how dangerous the ruling is. At the end of WWII, some Jews, including the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, identified the Germans with Amalek. Indeed, a Jewish religious socialist and a fighter against Nazis, Abba Kovner, hatched in 1945 a plot to poison the water supply system of German cities and to kill "six million Germans". He obtained poison from the future President of Israel, Efraim Katzir. Katzir supposedly thought Kovner intends to poison "only" a few thousands of German POW's. The plan mercifully flopped when Kovner was stopped by British officials in a European port. This story was published last year in Israel in a biography of Kovner written by Prof Dina Porat, head of Anti-Semitism Research Centre at Tel Aviv university [v].
In plain English, the Rabbis? fatwa means: our religious duty is to kill all Arabs, including women and babies and their livestock; to the last cat. The liberal Haaretz, whose editor and owner are sufficiently versed to understand the fatwa, did not hesitate to place the ad.
Some Palestinian activists recently criticized me for associating with the marginal Russian weekly Zavtra and for quoting the American weekly Spotlight. I wonder why they have not condemned me for writing in Haaretz? Zavtra and Spotlight have never published a call to genocide, after all.
It would be unfair to single out Haaretz. Another prominent Jewish newspaper, The Washington Post, published an equally passionate call to genocide by Charles Krauthammer [vi]. This adept of king Saul cannot rely upon his audience's knowledge of the Bible, so he refers to General Powell's slaughter of routed Iraqi troops at the end of the Gulf war. He quotes Colin Powell saying of the Iraqi army, "First we're going to cut it off, then we're going to kill it." For Krauthammer, with his carefully chosen quotes, multitudes of slain Arabs do not qualify for human pronoun "them". They are an "it". In the last stage of the war in the Gulf, immense numbers of retreating and disarmed Iraqis were slaughtered in cold blood by the US Air Force, their bodies buried by bulldozers in the desert sand in huge and nameless mass graves. The numbers of victims of this hecatomb are estimated from one hundred thousand to half a million. God alone knows their names.
Krauthammer wants to repeat this feat in Palestine. "It" is already cut off, divided by the Israeli army into seventy pieces. Now it is ready for the great kill. "Kill it!", he calls with great passion. He must be worried that the Persians will again stop the bloodbath before the Mamilla Pool fills up. His worries are our hopes.
[i]BAR, 1996, v 22 No 2
[iii]Here and there in the Land of Israel, Amos Oz
[iv]21 November, 2000
[v]Haaretz, 28 April 2001
[vi]Washington Post, 20 Apr 2001