New Year's Day was pretty much normal this year, with the usual few hangovers in evidence around the streets of Ramallah. A nice change from 1 January 1997, when Israeli settler and soldier Noam Friedman walked into the Hebron market and opened fire on Palestinian shoppers, wounding eight but, fortunately, killing no one.
Noam, in the tradition of Baruch Goldstein, was another settler who didn't like the fact that the place where he had decided to live - in this case the country they both called "Israel" - was populated by a race clearly inferior to their own. Had 'enlightened' Goldstein lived beyond his fourth clip of bullets before being beaten to death by a 'backward' Palestinian armed with a fire extinguisher, he would have probably said the same thing as Friedman; that his act was political and entirely in line with his understanding of Judaism and the ideals of Zionism.
This is how Jewish terrorism works in Israel. No different from anywhere else, really, just the same acts of violence directed at random members of whoever the out-group maybe. In this case Hebron's Palestinians, who are "too close for comfort" to the settlers living in the centre of town.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, alive at the time of Goldstein's Hebron massacre spree, described him as "an errant weed". "Sensible Judaism spits you out," he added, as if his government was going to take any real action against the settler extremists. Goldstein was a plant alright, but a plant watered and encouraged by successive Israeli governments of all political persuasions and whose attack unearthed the existence of orders to soldiers serving in the occupied territories, that they were not to open fire on Jews opening fire on Palestinians, rather to overpower them while they are changing ammunition clips.
It was also widely reported at the time that Goldstein was "mad", a crazy whose actions were not political but prompted by an unsoundness of mind, in turn caused (according to several media accounts) by his distress at having to treat so many victims of Arab terrorism in his role as a doctor. One would therefore assume that the many doctors at Hebron's Palestinian hospital who treated the 100-plus victims of Goldstein should perhaps be preventatively detained to protect us all.
Current Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu immediately followed Noam Friedman's New Year 1997 shooting spree with a similar declaration, that the uniformed soldier (fortunately not officially on duty at the time) was merely another crazy in the Middle East tapestry, with a history of mental problems. One wonders exactly how crazy one has to be in the Israeli Defence Force not to be issued with a gun. Mr. Friedman's M-16 fortunately jammed, allowing a nearby soldier to overpower him at the convenient moment according to his 'open fire' orders.
Friedman was spirited away, but still managed to deliver a very lucid account of his reasons for the attack to an Israeli TV crew, namely "to stop the peace process" in the run up to the Hebron redeployment.
So, what happened to this 'crazy' person, who showed that when issued with a dangerous weapon he would be dilligent in his practice when off-duty? What happened to this 'lunatic' that so eloquently demonstrated his contempt for human life when it was dressed up in Arab clothes?
Usually, we don't get to know because CNN knows we have forgotten by the time there is any development to report that the incident ever happened in the first place.
In the case of Noam Friedman, the story ended for us at the point when he was arrested on 1 January 1997. Then what happened?
The answer was found in a headline on page 3 of the Jerusalem Post of 14 July 1997, sandwiched between the earth shaking, "Science Ministry welcomes this year's head, and next year's" and the planet moving "TA judge hands down first sexual-harassment sentence here".
Under the headline, we read that Friedman was "discharged from the army and committed to a mental institution after a military court accepted recommendations from a team of IDF-appointed psychiatrists that he was mentally unstable and could not stand trial."
"Mad Dog" Friedman reportedly stated that he shot into the crowd "to prevent Israel from handing over most of [Hebron] to the PA, and to avenge the death of Baruch Goldstein."
This happened, according to the article, at a trial on 27 February 1997.
Fair enough, it happens everywhere, the insanity defence and subsequent commiting to a mental institution. But I certainly wasn't prepared for the headline that read: "Noam Friedman let out to study, visit home."
Apparently, after Pessah (Passover) in April 1997 poor little misunderstood Noam was "allowed out of the Kfar Shaul psychiatric hospital in Jerusalem to attend yeshiva classes and visit his home." In other words, less than two months after committing an act of extreme racist and political violence, Noam was a psychiatrist's success case.
"Friedman has begun a process of rehabilitation in which he goes out twice a week to study and at weekends is on vacation at his home," said Health ministry spokeman Dubi Ben-Ami. "His condition has improved."
Clearly, miracles in the Holy Land are not just the stuff of Biblical legend.
Now, if Noam had been a Palestinian and the eight injured had been Jews, something tells me that the result might have been a little different. All Palestinian acts of violence are terrorism, never of insanity, and Palestinians either get shot at the time of the incident or receive sentences that underscore the sanctity of human life, or at least Jewish life.
If there's one thing less comforting to me than a politically-inspired maniac who has proven his capacity for shooting shoppers because he doesn't like what he sees on the news, it's a politically-inspired maniac on medication and being given a Jewish religious education who has proven his capacity for shooting shoppers because he doesn't like what he sees on the news.
Wonder what Friedman is learning in religious school? Hopefully not the book of Joshua, although it is highly unlikely that this central text could have escaped him in 22 years of Jewish upbringing. Joshua describes the tribe of Israel's entry into the promised land, a record offered in some detail. Forty years after "You shall not kill" we read of Israel's first occupation of the land.
The story starts in Jericho, where the Israelites "devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it - men and women, young and old, cattle sheep and donkeys" (Joshua 6:21).
Ai, where "twelve thousand men and women fell that day - all the people of Ai" (Joshua 8:25).
The armies of the five Amorite cities - Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Elgon - were destroyed "completely - almost to a man." (Joshua 10:20). Those that escape only last another 8 verses before being "totally destroyed."
The southern cities, are ethnically cleansed in a manner similar to Jericho, first Libnah (Joshua 10:29-30), Lachish (Joshua 10:31-32), Elgon (Joshua 10:34-35), Hebron (Joshua 10:36-37), Debir (Joshua 10:38-39).
"So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all of their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded." (Joshua 10:40).
And on to the northern cities. The resisting populations were wiped out by the Israelites, "For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord has commanded Moses." (Joshua 11:20).
Joshua 13:1-7 outlines God's plan for what remains, namely the Sinai, Lebanon, parts of Syria, Jordan, and what seems to even be bits of modern day Saudi Arabia. Sure, not all religious Jews believe this is for today, but it only takes one frustrated gun-toting zealot to do his bit for Greater Israel.
It makes you wonder about present-day Israel, whose most secular leaders still fall back on the bible to justify their presence in the Middle East, doesn't it? What about the bits quoted above? And the secular international media write it down without comment. Shame that Islam isn't extended the same courtesy.
It also makes you wonder about the branches of the Christian Church that offer uncritical support to the repressive, present-day State of Israel, based on other texts about the biblical people Israel, from the same Old Testament where Joshua is found, doesn't it? Genocide sure wasn't one of the fruits of the Spirit last time I read chapter 5 of Galatians.
What should these Christians do when things Israel did in the Old Testament seem to contradict things Jesus taught in the New Testament?
Consider that before you love your enemy, you might need to identify him first. My hints include anyone who tells you that what went on then is okay now, if itís done by Israel. In other words, tell that man in the pulpit to explain how the part of the Old Testament he is reading before the collection plate makes its round relates to, say, those pesky teachings of Jesus. He needs to hear it.
Stop avoiding the issue or making excuses for Israeli human rights abuses and Israeli state-organised dispossession of Palestinians.
And stop sending money to Jewish right wing and settler movements that promote the kind of ideology that keep people like Noam Friedman living and practicing the gospel of hatred.
By the way, the article's final line was that, "Friedman's six-month ordered stay at the mental home is set to expire in September ."
Thankfully, although he was out with three months to spare, Friedman decided to spend New Year 1998 at home.