Who Stole the Samaritan Torahs?

Samaritan cermony Mt Gerazim_Tanya Habjouqa-Noor for NPR

A Samaritan ceremony at dawn on the summit of Mt. Gerizim. (PHOTO: Tanya Habjouqa-Noor for NPR)

From the NPR web-site comes an intriguing article by Jerusalem-based international correspondent Daniel Estrin offering a rare glimpse inside the modern Samaritan community in the Holy Land. This tiny sect, tightly-knit and steeped in colorful ancient traditions, consider themselves the “true Israelites” (and those of you who have witnessed the Samaritan Passover ritual might be inclined to agree).

Today’s Samaritans, less than 1,000 in number, are split between the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon and their ancient center atop Mt. Gerizim overlooking the West Bank city of Nablus, thus the community maintains a delicate balancing act between the Israeli and Palestinian spheres.

The narrative that carries Estrin’s story–one which he himself has been enmeshed in for the past several years–is the mystery of two, centuries-old Samaritan Torahs stolen from their Gerizim synagogue in 1995. One was a scroll, the other a bound codex, both written by hand in the Hebrew-like but still cryptic Samaritan script. Despite some vexing clues, hints and innuendo, the theft of the two works remains unsolved.

However, on his quest in search of these missing relics, Estrin takes us on a fascinating journey through Samaritan history and culture, including fault lines within the community itself– not to mention the shadowy world of the illicit antiquities trade. You’ll be introduced, too, to the ultimately enigmatic figure of Benny Tsedaka, a proponent and self-appointed spokesman for all things Samaritan.

This extended account, accompanied by some excellent photographs, is well worth a read. Estrin writes, in part:

If the Samaritans are the true keepers of the biblical faith, their Torahs are title deeds: rare and sacred manuscripts, written in a variation of the original Israelite script that Jews abandoned long ago and featuring passages scholars say preserve some of the earliest drafts of the Bible. Of the three dozen old biblical manuscripts left in the community’s coffers, the Samaritans say one is the oldest in the world, written by Moses’ great-grandnephew. These manuscripts are the Samaritans’ most jealously guarded possessions, and collectors across the globe have gone to great lengths to get their hands on them.

So have thieves.

Word of the burglary Continue reading

Posted in Antiquities, Israel-Palestine Scene, Nablus area, Old Testament, Religion, West Bank | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palestine’s Joan of Arc, the Gaza Shooting Gallery & the Stupidity of Occupation

A Song is Born

by URI AVNERY / 06 APR 2018

A FRIEND from overseas sent me the recording of a song. An Arab song, with a soft Arab melody, sung by an Arab girls’ choir, accompanied by a flute.

It goes like this:

Ahed / You are the promise and the glory / Standing as high as an olive tree / From the cradle to the present / Your honor will not be violated / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / We are the land and you are the water /

You are covered with blond hair / You are as pure as Jerusalem / You taught our generation how the forgotten people should revolt / They thought the Palestinians are afraid of them because they are wearing armor and holding a weapon? / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / Our nation must be united and resist for the freedom of Palestine and the prisoners /

Your blue eyes are a lighthouse / For a country that has every religion / You united the people far away and close / You ignited the spark in all our hearts / Your head is raised up high encouraging us / You ignited the light in our darkness /

Despite the softness of your hands / Your hands have shaken the world / Your hands returned the slap to the occupier / And returned esteem to the nation / Palestine has been planted in us / As a dock for every ship / We are the land and you are the water.

IF I were an adherent of the occupation, this song would frighten me very much.

Because the force of songs is much stronger than the force of weapons. A gun wears out, but a song lasts forever.

In the early days of the Israeli army, there was a slogan hanging in our mess: “An army that is singing is an army of victory!”

The present Palestinian generation has decided to lower its head and wait until the storm has passed. The coming Palestinian generation may act in a completely different way.

On the eve of my 15th birthday, Continue reading

Posted in Gaza, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Occupied Territories, Palestinians, Politics, The Media, The Occupation, West Bank | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

VIDEO | Doctor Whose Daughters Died in Gaza Still Fights Against the Contagion of Hate

Dr-Izzeldin-Abuelaish + Abdallah 6_2009

Izzeldin Abuelaish and son Abdallah, 6, in the wake of the 2009 shelling. (Photo: Ben Curtis/AP, via The Guardian)

It’s been almost 10 years ago now, but some of you may remember Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish — if not the name, then at least the horrendous story of how his family was decimated in a matter of seconds during Israel’s brutal 2009 assault on Gaza: The Palestinian physician’s three daughters and his niece were all killed when the family’s Gaza apartment was shelled by the Israeli military, an act the IDF acknowledged responsibility for at the time but for which the State of Israel has never apologized.

Several facets of the story only add to the intense tragedy and drama: Abuelaish, at that time a gynecologist, was the first Palestinian to serve on the staff of an Israeli hospital, where he treated both Israeli and Palestinian patients, traveling to his work via checkpoints from his home in Gaza. He spoke fluent Hebrew, and was already an important figure in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Then, during the 2008-9 Israeli onslaught on Gaza, when Israeli journalists were barred by their government from entering the Gaza Strip, Abuelaish was phoning in daily reports to his friend in Israel, TV reporter Shlomi Eldar. On the day of the deadly shelling — Abuelaish was present in the apartment at the time, in another room — the doctor’s shocking, anguished phone call went out live on Israeli television. Later, with Abuelaish still awash in grief, several seemingly crazed Israeli citizens shamefully disrupted the doctor’s press conference, hurling wild accusations and verbal abuse at him [for video of both incidents, see links below].

In the wake of all this, one could could forgive the man his expressions of hatred, recrimination and revenge… except there were none, and never have been. Anger, yes, of course. But his message has been consistent throughout, from the moment he was thrust by tragedy into the global spotlight: that hatred is irredeemably destructive, and that people — if they choose to — can live together in peace.

NOW, in her nightly offering on PBS, Peabody Award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour (a classy lady by any measure, IMHO) re-connects with the Palestinian physician  Continue reading

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Interview: 47 Minutes with Dr. Bart Ehrman

Our local Public Radio outlet just aired a wide-ranging interview with well-known New Testament scholar, professor, and author Bart Ehrman (the latest of five such features over the years — search the WUNC site). For some readers, Ehrman’s name may resonate from articles appearing in Biblical Archaeology Review and other publications, both popular and more academic. Today he serves as James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The latest of his several books is a work of early church history, The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World (2018, Simon & Schuster).


Dr. Bart Ehrman

This time out, Bart Ehrman lets listeners in on some of the religious and academic influences — and crises of faith — that have impacted his personal and professional development: an Episcopalian upbringing in Lawrence, Kansas; fervent, Youth for Christ-style conservative evangelicalism beginning in high school; many years of studies at Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, Princeton Seminary, Rutgers… And the deeper he dug, the bedrock certitude he once experienced simply grew ever more elusive, a story he unfolds for us with utmost candor.

While I’m not advocating replication of Ehrman’s spiritual journey — some, depending on their viewpoint, may say his ‘fall from grace’ or descent into the abyss — perhaps it’s still instructive to consider the paths he’s trod along the way. As the intro to the piece says:

He began his career as a fundamentalist Christian who believed the Bible was the inerrant word of God. His hunger to learn everything he could about the world’s most popular holy book led him to several academic institutions and a vast amount of knowledge that caused him to Continue reading

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UPDATED | Mike Pence Just Confirmed America’s Exit From the Mideast Peace Process

Such a rush of newsworthy developments coming out of the Israel-Palestine sphere these days — one hardly knows where to grab hold! I’ve almost given up trying to deal with them in order, so the following will suffice for today.

Commentator Sam Bahour (yes, he’s a Palestinian-American) gives his take on the US vice president’s Zionist sermon before the Israeli Knesset on Monday. In my opinion, Bahour hits the right notes: America should stop pretending to be an “honest broker” spearheading some non-existent “peace process”. In light of the United State’s official, unabashed love-fest with the State of Israel, the Palestinians have good reason to feel desperation. As for the world community, in their search for creative solutions and leadership in this arena, they absolutely must look elsewhere, not to the USA.

The text of Bahour’s opinion piece, as published in the Israeli daily Haaretz appears in full below. The full text of Pence’s speech can be found HERE.

* * *

Mike Pence Just Confirmed America’s Exit From the Mideast Peace Process

When Pence says: ‘We stand with Israel. Your cause is our cause, your fight is our fight’, it’s clear America is only interested in offering Israel blind political support and abandoning the Palestinians. Real peace must now mean circumventing the U.S. administration

by SAM BAHOUR / 24 JAN 2018

U.S. Vice President Pence couldn’t have said it more clearly.

“I am here to convey one simple message. America stands with Israel. We stand with Israel because your cause is our cause, your values are our values, and your fight is our fight,” he said Monday in Israel’s Knesset.

He doubled down on the Trump administration’s plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and repeated, mantra-like, the claim that the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was justified as “fact”. The word “Palestinian” was barely mentioned, and “Palestine” – not at all.

Pence also said the U.S. would support a two-state solution, but only if both sides support it – echoing Trump’s comments at his Jerusalem announcement. The meaning? The U.S. is Continue reading

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“May Your Home Be Destroyed”

Those were the words hurled at the US president by Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) in a rambling, defiant speech before the PLO Central Council on January 14th. It is said to be one of the milder curses in the repertoire of Arabic invective, as Israeli commentator Uri Avnery explains in his illuminating article, highlighted below.

Abbas 14 JAN 2018

Mahmoud Abbas addressing the PLO Central Council, 14 JAN 2018. (Source: MEMRI-TV)

As usual, Uri Avnery shoots from the hip and connects all the right dots in providing interpretation and context for this event: First, Trump’s appointment early on of two ardent, settler-connected Zionists to key diplomatic positions as US ambassador and overseer of some imagined “peace” negotiations — Trump’s own bankruptcy attorney and his son-in-law, respectively. Then there was Trump’s ill-advised proclamation of Jerusalem — an undifferentiated and undefined “Jerusalem” — as the capital of the State of Israel last month, and his administration’s plans to move the US Embassy there.

Key points in Abbas’ speech: There is no “peace process” and hasn’t been for a long time. Oslo — a terrible deal for the Palestinians that succeeded only in institutionalizing the Occupation — is likewise dead. Further, the United States is not capable, and has never been, of serving as honest broker in dealings between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors — it is simply too aligned with Israeli interests in a host of ways. Thus, Mr. Trump’s so-called “deal of the century” (whatever he had in mind, if he actually had any inkling at all) — deserves to be treated as a cynical farce, a non-starter.

Anyway, I’ll let Uri Avnery tell the story in his own inimitable way. A fixture on the Israeli scene for most of his 90-plus years, Avney displays his usual amazing grasp of the region’s history, of the personalities and issues involved, and of the minds of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

You can find video excerpts of Abbas’ Jan. 14 speech (with English captions), plus an English text version, on this web-page from MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Here is the story of Abbas’ speech from the Times of Israel

Uri Avnery’s article, reproduced in full below, is found on-line HERE.

* * *

May Your Home Be Destroyed

by URI AVNERY / 20 JAN 2018

WHEN I first met Yasser Arafat in besieged Beirut, in the summer of 1982, Abu Mazen was not present. But when I met him again in Tunis, a few months later, he asked me to meet Abu Mazen, too.

Abu Mazen, it transpired, was the Fatah leader in charge of Israeli matters.

MY FIRST impression of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) was that he was the exact opposite of Arafat. He looked like a schoolmaster.

Arafat was an outgoing type, who liked to embrace and kiss people and to establish close relations from the outset. Abu Mazen was much more reserved and withdrawn. Yet I liked his personality.

Even then, more than 35 years ago, he belonged to the first rank of the Fatah and PLO leadership, side by side with people like Abu Jihad (who was killed by Israel), Abu Iyad (who was killed by Palestinian extremists), Farouk Kaddoumi (who objected to Oslo and was excluded).

I met with Abu Mazen every time I visited Arafat in Tunis. When I heard that Continue reading

Posted in Israel-Palestine Scene, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, JERUSALEM, Palestinian Authority, Palestinians, Politics, U.S. Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

5,000 Years of Jerusalem History–in Under 3 Minutes | VIDEO

OK, so there are a few gaps, and it’s a little short on details in places… BUT how would you do if presented with the same challenge? What would you include? More importantly, perhaps: What would you leave out?

This little animated story is offered by the Emek Shaveh organization, whose goal has always been to counter the abuse of historical narrative, and especially of archaeology, in the service of exclusionary, nationalistic ends. (Their website is a trove of useful resources, and the educational bus/walking tours they conduct in/around Jerusalem (for a donation) are well worth connecting with.)

So, the message of the little film is simple: that Jerusalem today is — and should be — the product and reflection of all the cultures and peoples that, throughout history, have contributed to its rich and colorful mosaic.

When I used to guide people in Jerusalem, one of my favorite nuggets of wisdom about the place consisted of just three words: Continue reading

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