As the IDF left the Gaza Strip, ending the Israeli presence there, Palestinians charged in, looting, burning and destroying the synagogues left behind. One can only imagine the international outcry had Israelis destroyed even one deserted Muslim mosque—the mere rumor that a Koran may have been mishandled was enough to spark widespread media condemnation—but here much of the media, following the Palestinian lead, justified the rampaging as an understandable reaction to what they called “38 years of Israeli occupation” in the Gaza Strip and turned the tables to criticize Israel.
PA and Hamas leaders defended the actions of the mobs; a September 12 Jerusalem Post report quoted a dismissive Mahmoud Abbas:
“There are no synagogues here,” he said. “Israel left behind some empty buildings that are likely to collapse. All the public buildings they left are in danger of collapsing,” he said.
The senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, stated that his group:
would not allow the synagogues to exist for fear that they would be turned in the future into “Wailing Walls” for Jews. “We won’t allow any Wailing Walls on our blessed land,” he said. Defending the decision to raze the synagogues, Haniyeh said Israel was trying to keep them to put pressure on the PA to protect them in the future. “These synagogues were built for political, not religious, reasons. They were built illegally and should go away with the occupation.”
On Fox News, the roles were reversedit was not the Palestinian rioters, but Israelis who were the violent extremists. A September 12 Fox News broadcast featured correspondent Mike Tobin talking of “extremism” as the camera filmed him in front of Palestinians burning down a Jewish synagogue—but he was not discussing the actions of these arsonists. Tobin was talking about the Israelis who had left the Gaza strip several weeks ago. He said:
We were with a group of Palestinians in the wee hours of the morning as they first discovered what had become an Israeli stronghold of extremism, Kfar Darom…
And describing the situation, he added:
…Just hours earlier, Palestinians would have been shot for running along this strip of land into what was the Gaza settlements. Now with Israeli troops gone, they ran through the predawn darkness to confirm that the pullout was real…
Ignoring the fact that the Palestinians who have broken into Israeli settlements did so with the intent of killing Israeli men, women, and children, Tobin offered no comment on why an Israeli soldier or guard might have fired shots at them. Tobin, in fact, made no allusion at all to Palestinian violence, reserving such description for Israelis alone. Describing the Palestinian entrance into a Gaza synagogue, he said:
We were with a group as they entered the synagogue, the site of the most violent resistance from Israelis opposed to the withdrawal.
CNN’s correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Matthew Chance, similarly used the opportunity to criticize Israel while whitewashing Palestinian vandalism. Blaming Israel for leaving behind the synagogues and thus “tainting” the Palestinian “victory,” Chance absolved the Palestinian Authority for not protecting the Jewish religious sites:
This structure behind me –very controversial because it is the Jewish synagogue in the middle of Netzarim. The Israeli cabinet, of course, voting to leave those synagogues standing, very much angering the Palestinian Authority, because they know that these buildings are seen very much by the vast majority of Palestinians as potent symbols of the Israeli occupation and could not be protected or even left standing. And so we’re seeing very sensitive scenes here over the past few hours as the Palestinian security forces move the civilians out of that synagogue and move their bulldozers in to take away these structures, again, seen as hated symbols of the Israeli occupation. So these are scenes that are very sensitive to the Palestinian Authority. And also an aspect that’s really kind of tainted the sense of victory, the sense of relief amongst the Palestinians that the Israelis are finally gone…
A September 12 Reuters article by Nidal al Mughrabi also used the “hated symbols” rationale to explain the torching of synagogues:
Attacking symbols of the hated Israeli occupation, youths set ablaze several of the synagogues left behind in the 21 settlements evacuated last month under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from conflict. (“Israel Pulls Out of Gaza, Palestinians Rush In”)
Mughrabi also implied that Israel’s refusal to destroy synagogues was partly to blame for the Palestinian anarchy:
Palestinians were angry at Israel’s decision to leave the synagogues, torn between wanting to erase emblems of Israel and uncomfortable at being seen destroying places of worship.
But Palestinians did not seem in the least bit uncomfortable at destroying places of worship, judging by the proud proclamations they made to foreign reporters. For example:
“I wanted to go to the highest point, to see everything and to send a message to the Israelis. They provoked us and I wanted to burn and harm a place that’s sacred for them,” he [Wissam Judeh] said to nods of approval from a crowd of youths around him. (Globe and Mail, “Mass Looting Marks Palestinian ‘Day of Glory’, Mark Mackinnon, September 13, 2005)
The ransacking of settlements by Palestinian mobs was similarly whitewashed in a September 13 Reuters article by Mohammed Assadi as a desperate response to poverty:
Palestinians desperate for income dug through the rubble of former Jewish settlements in Gaza for anything of value on Tuesday, dodging security forces scrambling to restore order…
…”We earn a living and we contribute in keeping the environment clean, and this is not looting,” said Ayman Soboh, a former farmer. “The Israelis stole this land for 38 years. Now they are returning the land to us. It’s ours.” (“Palestinian scavengers strip ex-settlements in Gaza”)
BBC’s Orla Guerin predictably justified the Palestinian rampaging, going even further than others in her criticism of Israel. According to Guerin’s highly editorialized reporting, Israel stole years from Palestinian lives. She contended:
Palestinians came streaming to the settlements that caused them so much pain, to sightsee and to loot. Israel stole thirty-eight years from them; today, many were ready to take back anything they could…
What is the Motive for Razing Synagogues?
The Philadelphia Inquirer referred to Palestinian torching of the settlements as “protest fires”:
Jordanians in 1948, and anti-Semites throughout the agesthe desire to obliterate all symbols of Judaism?