This horrifying picture tweeted by IDF chief spokesperson, Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, got me to thinking about the meaning of Israel, Judaism and their respective symbols. In the picture IDF tanks and bulldozers are plowing a path around a Star of David their treads carved into the Gazan earth. They are on what used to be the Hamas training ground. It’s a naked photo op for the IDF. A great fuck-you to Hamas. Apparently, the IDF feels it will buck up folks on the home front and make someone feel proud somewhere of what the rest of us call genocide.
Last August, 16 Border Police officers severely beat a Palestinian man “all over his body” in front of his wife and children. For the coup de grace they burned a Star of David into his cheek. The police laughably claimed it wasn’t what it obviously was, but rather the officer’s shoe laces. They didn’t explain how you could imprint shoelaces on top of a boot onto the suspect’s cheek.
Instead of the Star of David as a proud symbol of the Jewish people, it becomes at the hands of such Judeo-thugs an instrument of torture. In another historical time, Jews too were branded by tattoos on their arms as they entered Nazi concentration camps.
The incongruity and the senselessness of these acts are shocking. To carve the national symbol into the earth or cheek of the enemy while you’re in the midst of murdering thousands of their children and mothers–it’s unimaginable cruelty. Which I suppose is the point. Causing pain for the sake of it. Rubbing salt in the wound. Worse, rubbing acid in the wound. Disfiguring the enemy and their country. That’s the point.
I am enraged that this country, this murderous country has adopted symbols of Judaism as its own. The Star of David once represented Jews. Illuminated manuscripts going back over a thousand years prominently feature it.
In 1948, the State of Israel declared it to be the national symbol. Thus, an image that represented Jews became one that represented a state. One that called itself a “Jewish state;” one that desperately needed legitimacy, and so took this religious symbol for its own.
Perhaps it was also intended as an answer to the Yellow Star, which the Nazis forced Jews to wear in ghettos throughout Europe. As if the new state was saying to the world: what was once our badge of shame is now our badge of honor.
Today, with that so-called Jewish state engaged in genocide reminiscent what befell European Jewry, it is time to take back those symbols we lent this state. We cannot do that literally or physically. But we can divorce ourselves from the crimes of the State of Israel. We can declare that it does not represent us as Jews.
In 1995, a group of settler rabbis met to perform a Kabbalistic death curse called a pulsa di nura. It is a ceremony of excommunication, which declares someone no longer a Jew and therefore subject to death. In this case, the target was then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Once these rabbis declared him outcast from the Jewish religion he could, according to their interpretation of Jewish law, be killed. That is what happened a few weeks later when a follower of these rabbis assassinated him.
It’s time to conduct a symbolic pulsa di nura for Israel. We must excommunicate it from our religion. We must declare it does not represent us. And that we do not consider it Jewish.
That may seem incongruous to some. But if we don’t do this, then the world will believe that Israel speaks for us. That what it does, it does for us. And that we are guilty for its crimes. In truth, many do target Diaspora Jews because they believe we and Israel are the same: harm us and you harm Israel. It is time to say No to that. We are us. They are them. We are not them.
In reality, what Israel does it does for itself. Its wars, its corruption, its murder is done in the name of a state, not a religion. States are based on politics and power. Israel is a perfect example of that. But religion is based on the spirit and values. They are complete contradictions.
That is how IDF comes to carve what was once a sacred Jewish symbol into the land of Gaza. It is a chilul haShem (“desecration of God’s name). A desecration of a Jewish symbol and Judaism itself.
The Book of Genesis tells us that man and woman were created in the spirit of God. And that human life, every human life is sacred. The Prophets later declared: “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.” That is my Judaism.
Judaism’s warrior vs spiritual dialectic
In truth, the warrior culture embodied by Israel’s war on Gaza can be found in some traditional Jewish texts. The Israelites did commit genocide against local tribes when they conquered Canaan. David and Saul were both warrior kings. The Book of Esther portrays a merciless extermination of a family that plotted against the Jews.
That is the Judaism Israel has embraced. It is the same one Israeli settlers practice when they burn down Palestinian villages, destroy orchards, kill livestock, and murder farmers. These Judeo-warriors also seek to destroy Al Aqsa and replace it with a Holy Temple filled with smoke of burning animal sacrifices. This is warrior Judaism.
This dialectical pole of Jewish tradition led to two failed rebellions against Rome. The second one brought the downfall of Judea and the dispersal of Jews throughout the Roman Empire. From 70 CE till the Zionist return nearly a millennium later, Jews shunned battle.
Instead, they turned to the other pole of the dialectic: Diaspora. They built communities, synagogues, schools wherever they went. They had no police. They had no army. They had traditions and values. Communal institutions instead of battle formations. The Diaspora had replaced Judea.
The Israel that has turned Gaza to a smoking ruin, seeks to return to the age of war and battle. It rejects the spiritual values of Diaspora Judaism in favor of naked power.
The two images here highlight Israel as the new Sparta. In one (right), an IDF soldier in Gaza reads from the Torah. Traditionally, the Torah reader would place the metal finger of a thin rod (a yad, or “hand”) on the text to keep his place as he read. The yad protected the sacred scroll from human contact. Because it was a sacred object it was not to be physically touched. The soldier in this image uses a combat knife instead of the yad. As the Twitter user who posted the image notes, it “makes a mockery of our sacred traditions.”
In the other image (left), an IDF sniper lays on the floor of a Gaza school. We see him through the door of what was once a classroom, through a pane of broken glass. He is wearing what’s called a kippah srugah, the knitted skullcap of a settler. Here is the Jewish warrior preparing to murder Palestinians. All in the name of his God of War, Jehovah.
He may have been the sniper who murdered Elham Farrah. Before we describe her death, we should learn about her life:
Elham Farah was a Palestinian woman—born and raised in Gaza. She is the youngest daughter of the well-known Palestinian poet Hanna Dahdah Farah. The Farah family is one of the oldest Christian families in Gaza, tracing their origins back to the Ghassanid Arabs, who were eminent in Gaza Between the 4th and 7th centuries AD. The Farah family have roots in this city and are famous for their knowledge and literature. Like the rest of the women in her family, Elham was educated and talented. She was strong-willed and adventurous….
For almost a month, Elham took shelter in one of only two churches still standing in Gaza, along with hundreds of others to avoid shelling, crossfire, and shrapnel. Elham never stayed in one place for too long. She always traveled, constantly scheduling new adventures on her calendar. Her adventurous and strong-willed side, however, could no longer handle staying inside locked doors.
This is how she died. A bullet in the leg which could have been treated in any hospital in the world. Instead, the IDF left her to die over hours of agony:
She insisted on leaving the church to check on her home and breathe fresh air. She needed to get a jacket, and make sure that her home was still standing and not destroyed. Through the gift of her strong faith, she comforted those around her asking them not to worry, and confessing that Jesus Christ would be with her wherever she went. On November 12, 2023, Elham walked from the church to her home, but as she arrived at her building, a sniper was on the apartment’s roof and shot her in the leg.
When neighbors in the area saw Elham lying on the side of the road, they tried to go to her to offer aid, but they were shot at, too…A short time after she was initially injured, the neighbors were able to get in touch with Elham’s family to inform them what had happened. After several unsuccessful phone call attempts, Elham’s niece was finally able to get through to her.
In that conversation, Elham described the severe pain she was experiencing and said that she’d been calling for help for hours without any aid. She said that she could no longer feel her leg, thinking that it had been amputated from the rest of her body. Her niece told her, “Auntie Elham, if it were amputated you would have bled to death by now. Rest your head. It is getting dark. We will try to get someone to you by the morning.” Elham responded, “Okay, I just put my head on the sidewalk. I will be waiting here.”
Elham’s family tried desperately to contact the Red Cross or anybody else who could go to her aid. Unfortunately, nobody could go. Elham was left bleeding out on the side of the road. She took her last breath, reposing in the Lord on November 13, 2023. Elham’s last words were, “Pray for me; I am dying.”
Auntie Elham, your crescendoing call for help turned into an echo on the shores of Gaza. The world lost a beautiful soul, and now you are playing music to all those who lost their lives as you did. In Gaza you were born and in Gaza may you eternally be laid to rest. We will never forget the sound of your accordion. We will never forget your last words. We love you and miss you.
Sometimes such a death is described as “dying like a dog.” But Elham died like a saint and a martyr. The “dog” (no offense to dogs) is the sniper and the nation which sent him to murder poets, musicians and artists. You may kill a poet, but you will never murder poetry. You may kill a musician, but never kill the music. These artifacts of Palestinian culture cannot die. Just as the Palestinian resistance will never die, no matter what Israel does in Gaza.
Throughout our history as Jews we’ve mourned such martyrs of our own: rabbis burned in Torah scrolls by the Romans, Jews wearing prayer shawls and praying the Shema to sanctify God’s name, as Nazis torched the synagogue in which they took shelter. Now we make martyrs. We have become the tyrants who murdered us.