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'Israel's Crimes Against Cultural Heritage'
Last uploaded : Tuesday 28th May 2002 at 00:00
Contributed by : The Editor



‘Israel’s Crimes Against Cultural Heritage’ greeted me tonight when I opened my ‘Evening Standard’ newspaper. The author, of course, is AN Wilson, who engages in periodic bursts of vitriol against Israel on his otherwise innocuous Monday page.

His most memorable editorial of recent months strongly urged the world to consider that Israel really has no right to exist. Mr Wilson, the eminent British novelist and historian who has the right to speak his mind in a democracy and who regularly reports ‘on the spot’ from the endless succession of pro-Palestinian rallies in London, now informs us that ‘the present Israeli government’ is ‘deliberately destroying monuments and artefacts of historic interest.’

He goes on to tell us that in the ‘Art’ newspaper, one Jean-Francois Lasnier describes the destruction of 80% of ancient Roman pavings in Nablus that had been restored with grants from Unesco and the EU, and the total destruction of the al-Khadrah mosque in the same location.

Quoting M. Lasnier, he continues with an inventory of wanton destruction wreaked by the Israeli authorities that include two mosques made from Byzantine churches, seven Roman cisterns and sixty historic houses.

Mr Wilson hastens to add that Israeli soldiers have themselves protested about what he calls ‘wanton vandalism’ and reports that Unesco has dubbed this activity ‘crimes against the cultural heritage of mankind.’ He asserts that because Israel is a signatory of the 1954 Hague Convention of Cultural Property During Times of War, Ariel Sharon is therefore in flagrant breach of this convention.

What is it about the headline of this article that makes my blood pressure go through the ceiling? Here I am, one of a measly 280,000 Jews in a country that has had its ‘moments’ in its relationship with its Jews since the Middle Ages and that is now host to three million Muslims --including Leila Khaled, the hijacker and head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- and I am feeling cornered.

Does the ‘Evening Standard,’ whose co-editor is now the former ‘Jewish Chronicle’ columnist Norman Lebrecht ever think twice before publishing such provocative headlines? One can well imagine the outcry were there a headline, ‘Islam’s Crimes Against Cultural Heritage’.

Where was AN Wilson’s outrage when the magnificent, historic giant Buddhas were blown up with dynamite, despite the pleas of countless countries, by the Taliban? Where was the Evening Standard’s – or Unesco’s --condemnation when Joseph’s Tomb was desecrated in October 2000? Rabbi Hillel Lieberman was brutally murdered trying to rescue the sacred artefacts and Sifrei Torah at the Tomb, but one has to go to the ‘GAMLA’ website to read about this tragic sequence of events.

Israel is not without fault. Today we learn that five Israeli soldiers have been sent to jail for looting and vandalising Palestinian property. Another twenty are being interrogated on similar and more serious charges including physical abuse of a Palestinian woman during a house search. Having been at the receiving end of breathtaking verbal abuse in almost every sphere of life during my year of ‘attempted aliyah’ (during my time there I used to think ‘If this is how a Jewish visitor is treated, how must they treat the Palestinians?’), I have, I must confess, recently begun to worry about the image Israel is projecting.

However, headlines that suggest that Israel, as a nation, is committing ‘crimes against cultural heritage’ is an insult that verges on the obscene. The Jewish State is a cultural cornucopia amid a cluster of continents suffering chaos, genocide, an AIDS catastrophe and starvation. There are likely more orchestras, chamber groups, theatre, opera and ballet companies and literary societies in tiny Israel than in most of its giant neighbours. Wherever Israeli archaeologists encounter a new find, it is treated with reverence.

If the accusations that Mr Wilson makes in his article are true, it is deplorable and an abrogation of Jewish ethical behaviour. Nonetheless what is so disturbing is that ‘the Evening Standard,’ whether trying to discredit Jewish Care and Lord Levy, deploring the installation of an Anne Frank bust at the British Library, or referring to Manchester’s Jews as ‘greedy’ for wanting a Holocaust Museum, has become so persistent a critic of Israel and of Anglo-Jewish aspirations as to cause alarm bells to ring.

Considering that Libya and Pakistan are now officially Judenrein, perhaps ‘The Evening Standard’ might like to do an investigative report on why two Muslim nations have posthumously succeeded in doing Hitler’s bidding. One Jew, Daniel Pearl, wandered into Pakistan and was sadistically beheaded and then drawn and quartered. As far as I am concerned, Mr Wilson’s accusations of ‘crimes’ by Israel pale in comparison with the ordeal the immensely civilised and well-meaning Mr Pearl endured – he who wanted to tell the world about Islamic grievances against the West, but instead was desecrated until death by men who had posed as friends and confidantes.

Headlines like those in tonight’s ‘Evening Standard’ do nothing to heal the wounds of the past eighteen months, and only exacerbate the prevailing bitterness and anger at a perilous time for interfaith relations in Britain and the rest of the world.


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