A letter to Jim Bollan by Dennis MacEoin about the Itamar victims

This is cross posted by Denis MacEoin, and represents a response to West Dunbartonshire Council Member Jim Bollan’s comments about the Itamar massacre.

Dear Mr Bollan,

I’m sure you will not mind if I write a few words to you. After this introduction, you will find the text of a letter I sent in April to Tamar Fogel, the twelve-year-old daughter of Udi and Ruth (Ruti) Fogel and the sister of Yoav (11), Elad (4), and Hadas (5 months), all of whom were cruelly done to death in March in their home in the Jewish settlement of I’timar, having done no harm to a living soul, having committed no crime, having made a life for themselves and their children built upon their personal faith and their public duty. I am an atheist, probably like yourself. I am not a Jew, again like yourself. I am a former teacher of Arabic and Islamic Studies,a traveller in the Middle East, the author of books and articles about Islam and about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I care about that conflict and I am sure I know much more about it then do you.

You and I stand at distant ends of the political spectrum, but this message is not primarily about politics. It is, in its core, about a five-month-old baby, a little girl barely conscious of life, who was slaughtered in her cradle by two teenaged boys from a nearby Arab village; and it is about a little girl, twelve-year-old Tamar, who came home one night and stepped on a scene that might well have sent her insane: blood on the walls and floors, her parents stabbed, her brothers and baby sister covered in blood, unmoving while her youngest brother Yishai pathetically stood trying to wake his father from sleep. She ran screaming from the house. However long she lives, she will never forget that scene. Which of us could ever expunge such a thing from our memory?

In his first appearance in court, Amjad Awad, one of the two murderers said ‘I don’t regret what I did, and would do it again. I’m proud of what I did and I’ll accept any punishment I get, even death, because I did it all for Palestine’. In the annals of ordinary murder, there are few killers who will make such a statement. Only heroes, men and women who kill to protect the defenceless will dare utter words like those. But Amjad Awad is not a hero. A killer of little children cannot, however noble his cause, be a hero or admirable or decent or courageous or brave or valiant. A child killer is the lowest form of humanity there can be. That Awad boasts of his deeds signifies his utter lack of morality, as does his pathetic excuse, that he did this ‘for Palestine’.

In a short e-mail you sent on the 5th of June, you seem to back Awad’s miserable excuse. You say ‘Violence breeds violence’. What violence had the Fogels done to the residents of Awad’s village? How had Hadas Fogel harmed any of them? What violence had young Tamar committed, what violence would she ever have committed, since her religion utterly abhors such wrongful use of violence? You say Awadf may have seen Palestinian children ‘slaughtered’ by the IDF. When has there ever been a slaughter of Palestinian children by the IDF? Has any Palestinian child died in that deliberate, knowing fashion practised on the Fogels by Amjad Awad and his friend? Every death of every Palestinian child is regretted in and outside Israel. Some – a tiny number – of those deaths have been the result of deliberate actions on the part of one IDF soldier or another. That is against Israeli rules of war and punishable. Some die when terrorist groups like Hamas kill them and place the blame on the IDF. The majority die when Palestinians engage in hostile operations against Israeli civilians. In such cases, the IDF have a legal duty to defend their own people, and inevitably enemy combatants are killed, and equally inevitably Palestinian civilians, including children, are shot or die as suicide bombers.

But the Fogel murders did not take place in the course of conflict. The victims were at home asleep. I don’t care how Awad felt about Palestine: he and his accomplice had spent days looking for weapons. They went to I’timar in cold blood. They selected the Fogel home at random. They carried out the killings maliciously, and they did so because they were the products of a society that preaches death on television, on radio, in sermons, in newspapers, in the suqs, in children’s summer camps, in school textbooks, in political speeches. Death and hatred. Hatred of Israelis expressed as hatred of Jews. A religious hatred of Jews and a racist hatred of Jews. You won’t hear hatred promoted like that in Israel.

I challenge you to read my letter to Tamar, which has been co-signed by hundreds of people. Just take it at face value. But here’s the hard bit. I would like you to go to I’timar with me to meet Tamar. I want you to repeat what you said in your e-mail to her and her remaining family. I want you to look that little girl in the eyes and explain to her why the slaughter of her family was justified. Why Amjad Awad and his friend were right in their own eyes to do what they did, that as Amjad stabbed little Hadas to her untimely death thoughts of Palestine and the rightness of hate and the morality of murderous death paraded through his mind. I am serious about a visit to Tamar. I can arrange it, and I can probably obtain funding for your trip and accommodation. Perhaps other members of your Council would like to come to see you persuade them that you are a man of conviction, that you are willing to put your money (as it were) where your mouth is. Because, if in the end you show that you do not have the courage of your convictions, that you are the man of straw I believe you to be, then they at least have the right to know how hollow your convictions really are.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Here’s MacEoin’s original open letter to Tamar Fogel:

Dear Tamar,

We have never met, nor are we likely to. I am not a Jew nor an Israeli, though for many years I have defended both Jews and Israelis from the physical and political attacks that are made on them. I live in England, though I’m Irish. The Irish used to be great enemies of the English, who did bad things to us, but who gave us their language, something in which we excel. But many years ago, long before you were born, the enmity between the Irish and the English faded. We are not the same people, but we no longer hate each other, and the English Queen will soon make her first visit to Ireland, in a gesture that the past is past, that we are now allies, not enemies.

The most important thing for you is to be sure that the only guilty parties were the terrorists who carried out the slaughter. And I need not tell you that these were not the first Palestinian terrorists to take out their hate, their resentment, and their jealousy on helpless Jews living on Jewish land.

I have watched you in two videos, the first time when Binyamin Netanyahu came to visit you and your grandparents, and I still remember the force with which you challenged him, such an important man and such a young girl. And after that your tears. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now that the dead are at peace, and your two living brothers may grow up with less dark memories, but that you above all are old enough and aware enough to carry the most terrible memories through the rest of your life. But I also saw a second video in which you spoke to a reporter from Israeli National Television, and here your tears gave way to a most articulate, awesomely mature, and moving assertion of your right to live in Samaria. I wish every Palestinian could watch that video with an Arabic voice-over. Perhaps there and then they might see that their fight against Israel is worthless, that you will never surrender, that you will not let yourselves be led to the slaughter as happened all those years ago. Rabbi Chaim Potok once wrote that there are no more gentle Jews. He did not mean that Jews are no longer kind or good, but that they now know how to fight back. Kol Hakavod for every word you spoke.

You will grow up among strong people, and you will finally marry and have children of your own. That may seem far off to you, but to someone much older like myself, it will happen in no time at all. When that happens, and when your two brothers find wives and have children, there will soon be more Fogels than before. They cannot substitute for the dead, but they can stand up and speak for them down the long years to come. Your life, however much you may wish it otherwise, will be overshadowed by the terrible event that has fallen on you. You will ask questions and you may find answers. After the Shoah, many rabbis tackled the question of hester panim, asking why HaShem had seemed to turn his face away from his people. I am not a Jew, and I cannot provide easy answers to those questions. You must seek your own answers from your rabbis and in your scriptures. One answer may be found in a short sound recording that was made in Belsen shortly after its liberation by British forces. It was made by the BBC and contains at the end description of a Shabbat service held by a British rabbi, at the end of which the survivors stand and sing HaTikva. They are weak, they are out of tune, some of them will still die: but they are singing in open defiance of the very great Nazi evil that had overwhelmed them and their families. Three years after that, the state of Israel was established.

I’m writing, first because I’m a writer and that’s how I express my feelings best. But also because I want to convey just how many people’s thoughts are with you. You have your grandparents and aunts or uncles, and after that you have your small and concerned community of I’timar, but beyond that you have a world of people, Jews and non-Jews, who stand with you in your grief. We feel helpless, not knowing what we can or should do to help, yet longing to do so. How many people can say they truly love the murderers who came to your house that night? Some may hand out candies and dance in the streets, but how meaningful is that? They love themselves and their own dreams of glory, but who can truly love men of blood, people who kill infants in their cradles?

For you the greatest problem of the next few years may be this: you are still a child and you deserve to be reading funny books and watching films and playing games and going to your youth club; but many will treat you as an adult before you are entirely ready for adult responsibilities. You do seem older than your years, but you should not be rushed into adulthood. I am sure your grandparents and others will understand this and will do their best to protect you from those who want to take your childhood away from you.

Enough of the advice! Everyone likes to give advice. You don’t have to listen to any of it, and advice isn’t really the reason I’ve written. You are in my thoughts and in the thoughts of millions of other people because the murder of your family has gone so deeply into so many people’s hearts. The list of atrocities carried out on Jews, not just in Israel but beyond, is very long. As a result, it’s easy to let them all blur together into one mass. But every so often one death or a group of deaths stands out and demands special attention. One day there will be a memorial to the sacrifice your family made. People from far away may come to visit it. Photographs of it will appear in the press. But the true memorial will be you, an ordinary girl, with a torn heart and a wounded soul, going to school, going to shul, making friends, baking bread, sewing, cooking, reading, blushing when a certain young man comes to speak to you, going to Kever Yosef to marry him, giving birth to your first child. I just mean to say that no-one expects from you heroic deeds, no-one wants you to have to shoulder resistance to all the evils you know better than most. It is your ordinary deeds, the day-to-day living of an ordinary life that are for the creators of horror the most painful thing of all, that Jews will continue to live on land sanctified by Jewish blood. At the end of that recording made in Belsen, someone calls out ‘Am Yisrael Chai’. By living, the killers only bring eternal disgrace on themselves, their families, and everyone who shelters them. By living, you make clear to everyone that the People of Israel live, that their light will not be snuffed out, and that when your enemies have gone to dust and seen a darkness beyond measure engulf them, the light of the Jews will illuminate the nations. Grow and be happy and tell us what you see on your journey.

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